Trash continues to pile up as California labor dispute spills into Washington state

Members of San Diego-based Teamsters Local 542 traveled to the Seattle area to extend their picket lines to Republic Services facilities in Seattle, Bellevue, Lynnwood and Kent. (Photo courtesy Teamsters

Overflowing trash continues to line the streets and sidewalks in Edmonds and Lynnwood while Republic Disposal’s sanitation workers stay off the job in solidarity with striking workers in Southern California.  With contract negotiations apparently stalled, it could be some time before the trucks roll again and trash pickup resumes.

Republic Services provides waste collection and recycling services in Edmonds outside of the Bowl, which is serviced by Sound Disposal. A small number of households in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood are served by Waste Management. In Lynnwood, Republic provides collection and recycling services west of Highway 99.

The strike against Republic began in the San Diego area on Dec. 17, when approximately 250 sanitation workers represented by the California-based Teamsters Local 542 walked off the job over what the union says is “excessive overtime, pandemic safety, and harassment by managers,” and after the company “refused to bargain in good faith and failed to address the workers’ demands for improved safety conditions in contract negotiations.”

On Jan. 13, Local 542 members arrived in Washington state and set up picket lines at four local Republic facilities, Seattle, Bellevue, Lynnwood and Kent (the Lynnwood facility also serves Edmonds). In solidarity with their fellow union members, Washington-based Teamsters Local 117 sanitation drivers exercised what the union says are “their contractual rights,” refusing to cross Local 542’s picket lines at the four locations. This effectively suspended garbage pickup in these jurisdictions. Picketing continued on Jan.14 for the second day in a row.

“Our members are standing in solidarity with their Teamster sisters and brothers in San Diego who are fighting for a fair contract,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Tukwila-based Teamsters Local 117, who represents Republic’s workers in Washington state. “Rather than provoking a strike, Republic Services should honor workers who have braved the pandemic to provide essential sanitation services that help keep our communities healthy and safe.”

A Republic Services truck. (Photo courtesy Republic Services)

Republic Services, like other waste management firms doing business in Washington state, is authorized by the State Utilities and Transportation Commission to operate under the terms of a tariff (i.e., legal agreement) between the UTC and the company, provisions of which address labor disruptions that cause adverse impacts on customer service.

According to UTC spokesperson Emilie Brown, the tariff with Republic Services “allows for missed services due to labor disruption, without any distinction between the type of disruption. When a labor disruption occurs, the company is required to notify customers, keep the commission updated on the service disruption, and use all reasonable means to resolve the issue within five business days after the first day of the labor disruption. Additionally, the company will collect the accumulated waste from missed pick-ups once it resumes scheduled service.”

On Friday Arizona-based Republic Services added the following service alert via its Edmonds and Lynnwood websites:

“Due to a temporary work stoppage led by union members from out of state, we are unable to service customers as scheduled Friday, January 14, 2022. We will collect double your regular material at no change on your next regular service collection day.  We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.”

In addition, the company provided the following statement to news media:

“Republic Services is experiencing a temporary work stoppage at our Seattle, Bellevue, Kent and Lynnwood locations. This is related to a labor issue in California that has nothing to do with any Washington employees. We are taking the steps necessary to minimize service disruption, and thank our customers for their patience and understanding as we work to resolve this temporary issue. We will provide more details as soon as they become available.”

But it’s uncertain just how “temporary” this service disruption will be, as negotiations in California remain stalled.

Regarding how long the Local 542 members plan to continue picketing in Washington state, Teamsters Local 117 spokesperson Paul Zilly responded, “I have no information about the duration of the pickets. I suggest you contact the company. Republic Services has the ability to end this immediately by addressing the striking workers concerns.”

— By Larry Vogel

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