Tentative settlement in Seattle-area trash strike

A waste collection company and its striking drivers announced a tentative agreement Wednesday evening to end an eight-day walkout that has left bags spilling from trash cans in Seattle and nearby cities.

Waste Management Inc. and Teamsters Local 117 said the agreement on a six-year contract came after a confidential meeting between the parties' lead negotiators.

Teamsters leadership will recommend that striking recycling and yard waste truck drivers approve the pact in a vote scheduled Thursday morning, the two sides said in a statement. Terms of the tentative deal were not released.

Garbage truck drivers, represented by a different Teamsters local, have been honoring the strikers' picket lines but will return to work Thursday.

Due to the timing of the ratification vote, recycling and yard waste collection will be limited Thursday, the statement said.

The walkout that began July 25 has affected 217,000 customers in King and Snohomish counties. Some business owners have angrily paid to dump their own trash. In neighborhoods, flies were circling curbside garbage bins where trash has started to stink in the summer weather.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department urged residents to keep garbage enclosed to avoid attracting raccoons and bears.

"We are pleased to have negotiated a contract that recognizes the professionalism of our members," said Tracey Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Local 117, which represents the 150 recycling and yard waste drivers.

"We are extremely pleased that we reached an agreement on a new contract that delivers a solid compensation package to our hardworking and professional drivers," Waste Management spokeswoman Robin Freedman said in the statement.

She asked for customers' patience as the company works to "fully recover from this unfortunate situation."

Waste Management started picking up garbage in some neighborhoods Wednesday, using replacement drivers from around the country.

The company had previously been offering limited service to priority commercial customers such as restaurants.

On Tuesday, Freedman announced the company had decided to begin hiring permanent replacements for the strikers.

Waste Management has the contract to collect waste in 60 percent of Seattle.

Mayor Mike McGinn warned Wednesday that inspectors would begin assessing possible fines for missed waste and recycling collections.

"This service disruption is creating a hardship for residents and businesses, and we expect Waste Management to fulfill their contract," he told a news conference. "We will be looking for every missed collection by Waste Management and, with the public's help, we will hold them accountable."

The company has said it expects it will be fined for missing pickups. Its contract with the city allows penalties of $1.25 million a day for service disruptions that last more than a week. The fines would be used to help customers pay bills.

The yard waste and recycling truck drivers' contract expired at the end of May.

Local 117 had sought to close a gap of about $9 an hour between the yard waste-recycling truck drivers and the garbage haulers. They drive similar trucks and the same routes and deserve the same pay, the union has said.

About 350 garbage truck drivers represented by Teamsters Local 174 have refused to cross picket lines.

Waste Management said its most recent previous offer was a six-year deal that would raise average salaries from $58,000 to $68,000 a year. If benefits are included, that offer was worth $98,000 a year to a driver at the end of the sixth year, the company said.

The median household annual income in 2011 in King County was about $54,000 and in Snohomish County about $51,000, the state Office of Financial Management estimated.