Local garbage truck drivers Steve Wegener (left) and Richard Salts (right) stand beside their natural gas-powered garbage trucks. Wegener has served the Kirkland for 29 years while Salts has served for 25 years as Waste Management truck drivers. Kailan Manandic, Kirkland Reporter

Kirkland Waste Management truck drivers preserve deep ties with community

The City of Kirkland’s decision to extend their contract with Waste Management (WM) last month has left two long-time local garbage truck drivers relieved.

Richard Salts and Steve Wegener have been serving the Kirkland community as WM garbage truck drivers for more than two decades. They’ve built deep connections with the community over the years and were anxious about the contract.

“I would’ve taken it personally,” Salts said.

The contract was set to expire on June 30, 2018 before the city extended the contract by two years. Additionally, Kirkland could exercise another two-year extension before the new expiration date, June 30, 2020.

Had the contract expired, another company could’ve taken it and the two drivers would’ve no longer operated in Kirkland.

“We both love this city and this is where we want to stay,” Wegener said. “It’s us.”

WM’s Pacific Northwest regional office is in downtown Kirkland and has been operating in the city for more than 35 years.

According to Mary Evans, area director of WM’s Public Sector Solutions, they were pleased that Kirkland extended the contract.

“All of us at Waste Management are thrilled to continue our partnership with the City of Kirkland. It is a privilege to serve Kirkland’s residents and businesses,” she said. “We enjoy working with city staff and the community to make Kirkland among the top cities for waste diversion … It’s a pleasure to work, live and play in Kirkland.”

Salts began working for WM in 1991 as a yard waste driver. He moved up the ladder and now works as a residential and commercial trash driver.

According to Salts, it’s easy to build close relationships with customers after seeing them every week for so many years.

“You see the same people after so long, you start talking, you start exchanging stories and you hear what’s going on in their life,” he said.

One of Salts’ customers, who lives on Rose Hill, lost her spouse recently and developed a close friendship with Salts.

“Her husband’s passed away now so she don’t really have anybody,” he said. “When the grass gets too long for her electric mower, she’ll come out and tell me on Friday, ‘hey, can you come by?’ ‘Sure, not this Friday but next Friday,’ and I’ll go do it.”

Salts also brings her a fuchsia plant every Mother’s Day and helps other customers with small things.

“We have customers that ask us to come in and do the weirdest things,” he said. “‘Can you change my Kirby vacuum cleaner bag? I can’t figure it out and my arthritis is bothering me.’”

Wegener has also built friendships within the community throughout the 29 years he’s worked for WM. He’s known a few kids, Maddie and BJ, since they were babies and one day, the family flagged him down so Maddie could say goodbye before leaving for college.

“That kind of hit me,” Wegener said. “Out of all the people, she wanted to come say bye to me. They’re not just customers, they’re those too, but they’re family.”

According to Wegener, several kids will recognize their big green trucks and run out to wave.

Salts and Wegener said they both love their jobs and plan to keep driving as long as they can. They enjoy cleaning the community and making people smile.

“I wouldn’t want to trade that for nothing,” Wegener said. “Just that little bit of impact you can have on somebody’s life, no matter how big or how small it is, it means something. If we can make those kids smile and happy, that’s pretty cool.”

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