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May 22, 2022

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Trash left uncollected as Seattle-area sanitation workers join strike

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SEATTLE — Sanitation workers in Seattle, Bellevue, Lynnwood and Kent are joining a strike effort underway in San Diego to demand better working conditions.

More than 250 California-based workers for Republic Services walked off the job in December, voicing complaints of excessive work hours, harassment and, they said, the company’s refusal to bargain in good faith.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents the sanitation workers, announced this week the picket line would extend to four areas in Washington. More than 300 workers in the state have pledged not to cross the line, the union said.

“Our members felt they had no choice but to take their strike line elsewhere to communicate to the company that it needs to listen to its front-line workers,” said Jaime Vasquez, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 542 in San Diego.

“Our members are public service workers who want desperately to be able to get back into their trucks and clean up their communities,” Vasquez continued. “All we ask is that Republic Services recognizes the value of its essential workers who have kept this community safe, clean and protected for nearly two years of this pandemic.”

Republic Services provides residential garbage, recycling, and yard and food waste pickup in dozens of Washington cities, including Kent. A few days into the strike, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said the impact is already noticeable with overflowing trash cans and bags curbside.

To mitigate the interruption, residents have the option to load up their cars and take their trash and recycling to a drop-off site at events organized by Republic Services, Ralph said.

A late-December snowstorm already delayed some recycling services, which usually operate on a biweekly basis, so some customers are nearing three weeks without a pickup, the mayor said. The city has called on Republic Services to organize more drop-off events as well as offer credits to consumers that are missing collections.

“We do not believe our residents should be paying for services they are not receiving,” Ralph said.

In a statement, Republic Services said “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.”

The work stoppage “has nothing to do with any Washington employees,” the company reiterated.

In Seattle, Republic Services independently serves some commercial customers, but the labor dispute won’t impact residential or commercial customers through Seattle Public Utilities, according to Sabrina Register, a representative for the department. The city contracts with Waste Management and Recology for collection services. Seattle Public Utilities does work with Republic Services’ recycling plant, but Register did not anticipate any impacts related to the interruptions.

Republic Services employs more than 35,000 workers across 41 states. The Teamsters represent more than 7,000 of those employees.

The company, which averages 5 million pickups each day, reported net income of $350 million from July to September, according to the most recent financial data available.

In San Diego, union members authorized a strike in December, after their contract with Republic Services expired at the end of November. Workers walked off the job later that month. Earlier in January, union members voted to reject a contract proposal.

“This company can afford to treat its workers with dignity and respect, and ensure they are safe on the job,” said Chuck Stiles, director of the Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division. “This strike and these extensions show a pattern of disrespect that Republic has for its workers and the communities they serve.”

A union representative said an end date for the Seattle-area strike has not been set.

Taking the picket line to other facilities is a tactic the union has deployed with Republic Services before. Last year, striking union members in Orange County, California, extended their picket line to New Orleans.

Now, union locals in seven locations are in contract negotiations with the company, including those in San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Stockton and Richmond, California, as well as Seattle and New Orleans.

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