Well, that didn't last long. The garbage strike that threatened much of Seattle, and broad swathes King and Snohomish counties, ended at midnight last night. It began Wednesday morning.
Waste Management, the sanitation giant that employs scores of garbage truck drivers, came to an agreement with workers yesterday afternoon. "Part of it was them agreeing to stop the strike and meet with us next week," says Waste Management spokeswoman Jackie Lang.
But the quick resolution comes after an apparent impasse. The strike rose out of a labor dispute between Waste Management and drivers, represented by Teamsters Local 174. As of yesterday both sides claimed the other refused to negotiate, and the company was rapidly flying hundreds of scab drivers in from around the country.
"We are... concerned that if we continued the strike, Waste Management might lock out our members and create another Oakland,” Rick Hicks, the Secretary-Treasurer for Local 174 said in a statement to the press. (The Oakland Waste Management-labor dispute resulted in trash going uncollected for a month.) “At the urging of Seattle Mayor McGinn and King County Executive Constantine," says Hicks, "we committed to getting this done at the bargaining table and to keep the public out of it, if possible.”
For its part, the company is happy that drivers are back on the job but is pinning the blame on the other side. "We are disappointed because this simply did not have to happen if the Teamsters had just responded to our meeting requests," Lang says. As I reported yesterday, Local 174 disputes this understanding of events, alleging that the company proposed meetings but never bargaining sessions.
The meeting time for next week is undetermined, but according to Lang "clearly those meetings will be bargaining sessions."
Benefits are the chief area of dispute in the stalled negotiations. Waste Management's last contract proposes an incremental five year wage increase, but it cuts back on medical and pension benefits. Local 174 points out that waste workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in America, and that other area garbage companies recognize this fact by offering a standard benefits package. (Which is true of both Cleanscapes and Allied Waste, Waste Management's regional competitors.) The company claims the union is making unrealistic requests, considering the economic times. This excuse seems a trifle unlikely given Waste Management's size (it is one of the largest sanitation companies in the country) and its recent healthy profits.