SEATTLE — A collection company said it had enough replacement drivers Wednesday to start picking up garbage in some neighborhoods on the eighth day of a Teamsters strike that has left bags spilling from trash cans and prompted warnings about bears and raccoons on the prowl for easy meals.
The walkout has affected 217,000 customers in the Seattle-Everett area. Some business owners have angrily paid to dump their own trash. In neighborhoods, flies are circling curbside garbage bins where trash has started to stink in the 70-degree summer weather.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department urged residents to keep garbage enclosed to avoid attracting raccoons and bears.
Using replacement drivers from around the country, Waste Management has been offering limited service to priority commercial customers such as restaurants. Now, the company is screening applicants for permanent replacement jobs, spokeswoman Robin Freedman said.
"Our drivers have chosen to enter into a strike. We have an obligation to the community, so we're going to hire replacement workers to get the job done," she said.
Waste Management has the contract to collect waste in 60 percent of Seattle.
About 150 yard waste and recycling truck drivers represented by Local 117 walked out on July 25 after their contract expired at the end of May. About 350 garbage truck drivers represented by Local 174 are not crossing picket lines.
Local 117 wants 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 says.
Waste Management says it's offering a six-year deal that would raise average salaries from $58,000 to $68,000 a year. If benefits are included, the offer is 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.
Teamsters Local 117 has accused Waste Management of intimidation and refusing to bargain in good faith. Members are not concerned about losing their jobs because they expect the National Labor Relations Board to agree that Waste Management has committed unfair labor practices, spokeswoman Brenda Wiest said.
Hiring replacement workers is "another bullying tactic to intimidate and threaten drivers instead of bargaining in good faith," she said.
Freedman countered that Waste Management has not violated labor law.
The company 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.
No new talks have been announced as tension and pressure mount, like the growing mounds of garbage bags at many homes and businesses.
Waste Management promised garbage pickups Wednesday for commercial customers in Snohomish and King counties and for residential customers in 10 cities — Algona, Auburn, Bothell, Federal Way, Kirkland, Maple Valley, Mill Creek, Redmond, Renton and Seattle — if today is their regular pickup day.
The company isn't picking up yard waste or recycling bins. And, it says it's unable to provide service to commercial customers in Skagit County because of a picket line that went up Tuesday at a Waste Management yard in Burlington.
The city also is allowing residents to drop off up to six garbage bags at a time at two transfer stations in Seattle at no charge.