Union says Waste Management rejected offer to start bargaining

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on July 27, 2012 at 5:18 AM

Updated Saturday, Jul 28 at 5:23 PM

SEATTLE -- After a day of no movement toward resolving the strike by Waste Management drivers, a press release was issued late Friday night by the Teamsters Union.

The release issued by Teamsters Local 117 said Waste Management rejected a "new, good-faith offer by recycle and waste drivers to give the bargaining process an opportunity for success."

KING 5 attempted to contact Waste Management for their side of the story, but our calls were not returned.

The release went on to say:

Local 117 offered to take down picket lines throughout the region at 9am, Saturday morning if Waste Management would agree to negotiate at that time and fulfill its legal obligation to bargain in good faith.  Waste Management rejected the Union's offer and demanded that recycle drivers cease picketing this evening (Friday) as a condition to meet.

Earlier Friday, Mayor Mike McGinn sent a letter to Waste Management officials warning the company of financial penalties should it fail to provide garbage and recycling pick-up as required under its contract with the city.

"Should the service interruption continue we will take the necessary steps ... to protect our ratepayers and encourage restoration of service," McGinn wrote.

Such steps could include a $4,500 per day fine against the company if it fails to provide contracted services. If the disruption continues past Aug. 1, Waste Management could be fined $250,000 per day, the mayor's letter said. A separate letter from Seattle Public Utilities said fines and fees could cost Waste Management $1.25 million per day if service isn't returned by Aug. 1.

The company said it was bringing replacement drivers to the region to haul garbage and recycling from communities it services in King and Snohomish Counties.

The union has said repeatedly that the picket lines would end if they believe the company was coming to the table in good faith.

Teamsters spokesperson Brenda Wiest said the union reached out to Waste Management's top labor relations official, requesting that he come to Seattle to restart talks. That request was rebuffed, she said.

Waste Management, meanwhile, said it is willing to talk, but only if the strike ends first.

"In this economy, our drivers need and want to get back to work. There's no reason why they should walk the picket line and negotiate at the same time. Go back to work, we'll go back to the table. It makes sense," said Robin Freedman, Waste Management spokesperson.

Waste Management spokesperson Robin Freedman said a small contingent of drivers from Waste Management locations in other parts of the country are now in the area driving routes. She said more drivers could follow, but didn't have the number of drivers.

Waste Management said its service priorities are hospitals, nursing homes, day cares, medical clinics and Sea-Tac Airport.

Two factors play into the decision to bring in replacement drivers: customers complaints about trash piling up, and the threat of fines from the cities the company is under contract to serve.

Waste Management could face penalties if trash isn't picked up. The City of Seattle could fine the company as much as $250,000 per day.

Picketers were stopping trucks coming in and out of the South Seattle Waste Management facility Friday. The picket line has been peaceful so far. Given what the union has experienced at past strikes across the country, Teamsters officials said they have concerns.

"They're aggressive and they're from out of town and our guys know that they don't have their families' interest at heart and they'll do their best to make this look messy and we'll do our best to be professional," said Teamsters spokesperson Brenda Wiest, "We just wish Waste Management would get back to the table and bargain with the community."

What customers need to know

Waste Management advises customers not to put any waste bins out, as there won't be any drivers to pick it up. They will pick up double loads next week, if the strike ends.

Garbage truck drivers are honoring the recycling drivers' picket lines, resulting in the complete stoppage of service.

Get the complete garbage and reycling pick-up schedule on the Waste Management website (www.wmnorthwest.com) or call the customer service center at 1-800-592-9995.

About 220,000 customers are affected by the strike. 

The striking recycle drivers are with Teamsters Local 117, fighting for better salary and benefits in a contract negotiation that has dragged on for months.

They would like Waste Management to raise their salaries to meet the pay of garbage drivers. With overtime, recycle drivers make about $58,000 a year. If requests are met, they could make as much as $98,000 a year with overtime.

Negotiations between the Teamsters and Waste Management will continue on Saturday.

Allied Waste customers and the King County Transer Stations are not affected by the strike.

Negotiation updates are also posted on the Teamsters Local 117 website, www.seattletrashwatch.org.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee has said they will continue providing service to only "critical" facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes and restaurants, without interruption.

KING 5's Glenn Farley, Travis Pittman and Natasha Ryan contributed to this report.

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