Teamsters vote to end Seattle-area waste strike

Teamsters who drive yard waste and recycling trucks in the Seattle-Everett area of Washington voted Thursday to accept a new contract, ending a weeklong strike against Waste Management that disrupted garbage pickups for more than 200,000 homes and businesses.

The vote was 109-14 to accept the 6-year contract and return to work, said Brenda Wiest, a spokeswoman for Local 117.

The company added half a million dollars to its previous offer, she said.

The strike was "absolutely worth it, not a question in my mind," Wiest said.

Waste Management is thrilled drivers are returning to work, but it's not talking about the terms of the final contract, said spokeswoman Robin Freedman. Union leaders had rejected a previous offer that would have increased a driver's salary by $10,000 to $68,000 in the sixth year.

"I think it was really an unfortunate situation for our customers and sad for the community that the union leadership decided to go out in the first place," Freedman said.

The company told customers to put out waste bins on regular collection days, and trucks would pick up yard waste, recycling and garbage that have been drawing flies since July 25.

Waste Management had provided limited service with out-of-state drivers and was planning to hire permanent replacements before the agreement was reached.

The company has a contact worth $36 million a year to pick up waste in 60 percent of Seattle. The city can fine the company $1.25 million a day for missed pickups after a week. Inspectors were checking bins to determine fines, Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Andy Ryan said. It will take a few days to tally and a few more to determine how that money will be distributed back to customers, he said.

The threat of fines helped push Waste Management to settle, the union spokeswoman said.

"The cities did a tremendous job of enforcing contracts with Waste Management for failure to perform," Wiest said. "I think that was a component."

Some of the 150 Local 117 drivers returned to work immediately and the rest will be back Friday, she said.

Hundreds of garbage truck drivers represented by two other locals returned to work after picket lines came down Wednesday night on news that an agreement had been recommended by leaders of Local 117.

"We want to thank our Teamster brothers and sisters, especially members of Teamsters Local 174 and Teamsters Local 231, for their unwavering solidarity during the strike," said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117.

The company said it will take time to catch up with collections.

"We will do our best to ramp up recovery services," Freedman said.

Trash bins were overflowing at some locations, causing the most problems at restaurants. There was no indication yet of a health hazard, Ryan said.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department warned residents to keep garbage secure to avoid attracting raccoons and bears in some areas.

"We haven't had a tremendous report of raccoons, but I suspect they're doing very well," Ryan said.