Trash talks.

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It’s finally Seattle summer – yet it’s hard to focus on our brief period of blue skies when our sense of smell, not to mention our community hygiene, is challenged by piles of trash (and accompanying urban wildlife) in alleyways in Chinatown and overflowing garbage cans in West, South, and Southwest Seattle.   Employees of Waste Management have called a strike and garbage and recycling haven’t been picked up for more than a week.

As a bit of background, the City of Seattle contracts with two companies – Waste Management and CleanScapes – to do residential and commercial garbage and recycling pick ups.  The great, strong people who come by your house or building weekly to pick up what you throw away aren’t City of Seattle employees, instead they are employees of Waste Management and, depending upon their specific job, they are members of either Teamsters 117 (recycling) or Teamsters 174 (garbage). The Teamsters want the salaries of recycling truck drivers and waste truck drivers to be on the same level.  The recycling workers and WM have been in negotiations for several months, but talks recently broke off and the recyclers struck. The garbage drivers are respecting the strike. 

There will be plenty of scape-goating and hot tempers as garbage piles up and employee bank accounts deplete, but be assured that almost no one truly wants a strike. Maybe you have a few over-eager types on each side, but most employees want to work and most managers want smooth relationships that allow the work to get done.

Waste Management, set to incur fines of more than a $1 million a day from the city for failure to perform (the contract requires WM to pick up during strikes with a seven-day grace period), has brought in replacement workers to try and scoop up at least some of the garbage from bigger generators like hospitals and restaurants. WM started running ads this week to hire permanent replacements for all 153 striking recycling drivers. That’s a sharp knife jab at the striking drivers.

If you check out the “comments” on The Seattle Times article this morning about WM’s replacement driver efforts you see a huge number of people bashing unions and the striking workers. That’s too bad. This economy is tough for workers without a white collar and tougher when you’re out there on your own. Collective bargaining represents the best tool for employees and management to hammer out differences.

Exercising leadership means controlling emotion and getting all parties back to the table. We all benefit from a well-bargained fair deal.  

In the meantime, a few suggestions regarding garbage and recycling during the strike:

  • If your pick-up is normally Tuesday, set out your bins out next Tuesday. That’s the seven day grace period.
  • Wednesday customers should set out your waste on Wednesday and to leave it out through Thursday.
  • After that pick-ups should occur per normal schedule.


Will it be picked up on normal schedule even if the strike continues? We’ll see. That’s a lot of replacement drivers. I’d rather see that expense and organizing energy put into negotiations. I think I’ll be headed over to the South Transfer Station this weekend. During the strike you may take up to 6 bags of garbage or yard waste to either of the City transfer stations for free.   That option continues until collection service is fully restored.