Garbage strike taking its toll on Kirkland residents and restaurants
By RAECHEL DAWSON
Kirkland Reporter Reporter
August 1, 2012 · Updated 1:37 PM
Just behind Hector’s, the popular restaurant on South Lake Street in downtown Kirkland, dumpsters stood packed to the brim Monday morning. Recyclable cardboard filled the crevices in between and behind the green cast-iron bins as the strike by Waste Management truck drivers continued into its sixth day. That strike has now surpassed a week.
Substitute drivers were brought in this week to help combat the food and yard waste, garbage and recyclables that have accumulated. Waste Management plans to hire permanent replacement drivers, which the union says is illegal. Residential pickup took place for the first time on Wednesday. But restaurants, who typically receive pick ups multiple times a week, were still left with some trash.
“The city has been very helpful, but (Waste Management) couldn’t get all of our stuff,” said Dave Plumb, Director of Operations for the Hector’s and Milagro Cantina property. He said the substitute drivers were able to empty two of the four dumpsters and that recyclable items were not the highest priority.
The biggest concern has been maintaining garbage control among hospitals, nursing homes and day cares.
Jason Johnson, general manager of Wing Dome, said his dumpsters got too full over the weekend and it was “pretty bad.” He explained that his garbage and waste were taken care of Monday, but over the weekend people from the condos behind his restaurant complained about the lack of garbage control.
“Our recycle bin is still overflowing,” said Johnson on Monday.
Some retail property management officials in Kirkland said people from nearby apartments are dumping their personal trash in retail business dumpsters during regular business hours. Most residents don’t want to spend the $20 minimum for garbage - and more for recycling and yard waste - disposal at the transfer station.
“Our own staff is now monitoring the garbage,” said the Hector’s property management.
Waste Management recycling and yard waste truck drivers in King and Snohomish counties went on strike July 25 following failed contract negotiations. Service was disrupted to approximately 20,000 Kirkland residents.
The city contracts with Waste Management for residential, multi-family and commercial garbage, recycling and organics collection services.
Kirkland Solid Waste Programs manager John MacGillivray said the city delayed fines for the first week so that Waste Management had time to restore services.
“If the City elects to assess performance fees, then they would be assessed after the fact, after we confirm what services were and were not provided,” said MacGillivray.
Waste Management could face up to $500 in fines for each block that remains unattended per day.
At issue are the 153 recycle and yard waste drivers employed by Waste Management, who have been working without a contract since May 31, according to Local 117. The drivers unanimously voted on June 2 to authorize a strike after they said the company committed a series of labor law violations.
Teamsters’ Local Union 117, whose membership includes recycling and yard waste truck drivers for Waste Management, Inc., accused the company of several federal labor law violations, including bad-faith bargaining, coercing and direct dealing with its employees and threatening to retaliate against workers. According to the union, The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating those violations.
Teamsters’ Local Union 174, whose membership includes garbage truck drivers, are honoring the Local 117 picket lines.
“Waste Management has forced this labor dispute through its blatant disregard of U.S. law,” said Local 117 secretary-treasurer Tracey A. Thompson, in a statement. “Now they are on the verge of provoking a public health crisis. Waste Management needs to realize that this community will not sit idly by while they put our families at risk. We call on Waste Management to return to the bargaining table immediately and bargain a fair contract in good faith that recognizes the health and safety hazards its drivers face on the job.”
Waste Management spokeswoman Robin Freedman said Wednesday the company is “extremely disappointed that union leaders decided to take this unnecessary step.”
She added after more than six months of contract negotiations, the company put forth 16 comprehensive proposals that were “very generous.”
Freedman denied that Waste Management had violated any federal labor laws.
“That’s a typical union tactic during labor negotiations to claim there were unfair labor practices,” said Freedman. “We are extremely confident the National Labor Relations Board will find (their accusations) without merit.”
Waste Management delivered its final contract offer to the union on June 6, which proposed wage and benefit increases averaging more than 4 percent per year. Mediation between the union and company ended on June 14, after the parties failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the contract that expired on May 31.
In total, recycling and yard waste drivers service 220,000 customers in the Puget Sound region.
“I hope it gets done with soon,” said Plumb.
Customers who do not receive service are encouraged to remove their garbage, recycling, and yard waste carts from the street. Waste Management said that double loads of garbage and recyclables will be collected at no additional cost on the next regularly scheduled service day. But when that service day comes is anyone’s guess.
City solid waste customers are encouraged to stay informed by visiting the WMI website at www.wmnorthwest.com/servicedelays.
Editor Carrie Rodriguez contributed to this story.
Contact Kirkland Reporter Reporter Raechel Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-822-9166 X5052.