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

  1. I wish strikers would communicate their demands to the public who is affected most by the strike. No demands or specifics whatsoever. “This is why we are here. Bottom Line” without saying anything specifically. I can’t respect that. People who need trash picked up are stakeholders too. Inform them. “We’ve had to work through the pandemic” is a common gripe. How is that a bad thing? Other people weren’t allowed to work, were shut down. There might be some legit demands, but that statement (where they ‘had’ to work) should be shelved.

    In the movie Joker, the whole dystopia was culminated by a sanitation strike. Deep down, trash pickup affects society psychologically more than most other things.

  2. We have 3 different companies serving the
    Edmonds community. Sound Disposal is a local company with roots in the community and reputation for caring and dedication to customers. With an obvious choice of carriers already working here, Sound Disposal should be given an immediate shot at the business now served by Republic to help our community.

      1. It has been already for two weeks that our trash, recycles, and yard waste are not collected. We, the citizens pay for the service and also our taxes, and we are entitled for getting this service on time. The accumulated garbage creates anti – sanitary conditions, animals have free access to the garbage and is becoming even dangerous especially during the time of the epidemic. The Edmonds City Council should get involved and arrange some service for us or at least provide some helpful information.

  3. The Town of Woodway is also (poorly) serviced by Republic. The WUTC is far too lenient on this issue of service interruptions.

  4. “Republic Services should honor workers who have braved the pandemic”! OK, let’s everyone jump on the Covid bandwagon. I think sanitation workers have about the lowest risk of job related Covid exposure of anyone on the planet. I don’t know if they should get a better contract or not but I know they don’t deserve special recognition for not exposing themselves to Covid. I don’t think I’ve seen a single driver wearing a mask!

  5. Why don’t we who have the most trash figure out a clever way to thank the workers who show up this coming week. No doubt all of us have suffered in one way or another.

    The weeks of snow, slick streets, holiday trash have been unprecedented. So get creative with gifts and notes.

  6. I believe it was in Sitka, Alaska a few years ago where I saw this promise painted on every garbage truck:

    “Your Satisfaction Guaranteed or Double Your Garbage Back!”

  7. These guys don’t even get out of their trucks, there is some kind of forklift that picks up the can and dumps it in the truck. What risk to covid. I say we haul our garbage to the picket line and dump our garbage. Little Sound Disp. in Edmonds is a great little company, wish we could use them. We had there service for years when we lived in the bowl area never any problem. Plus they were a great company if you ever had a problem.

    1. Libby,
      I’ve seen our RS drivers get out of their trucks. Sometimes it’s to pull the can closer to the truck so the forklift is able to pick it up to empty it into the truck. Other times, it’s to see if the cans that weren’t put out need to be emptied.

      Our garbage was collected this past Monday. Our recycling hasn’t been collected since 12/20 and the can is full to the brim. So, we’re really hoping it’s collected tomorrow.

  8. I have zero expertise around a garbage mans job. What I do know is that what we see them doing from our kitchen and living room windows is not their whole job. So disconcerting to read people’s comments putting them down. Working during the pandemic was risky for all jobs and should have been rewarded with increased pay. Why the knee jerk criticism? I hope they get what they want in a contract. This is an incredibly expensive area of the country to live ad they are essential to our well being. . When they showed up last week and took my garbage and recycle away I couldn’t of been more appreciative. It’s either support your garbage man or invest in a truck and weekly trips to the transfer station where the minimum is $20.00. Do the math.

    1. Connie, it is well known that sanitation workers have one of the most dangerous jobs. I heard that a lot of people can’t make the cut because one needs a lot of situational awareness to do this, which can;t be taught. Being a pilot is like that too I suppose. There are more occupational accidents and mortalities than [say] a police officer. Oft compensation and benefits packages have been very good. Mike Row and other people who champion a worker’s perspective often cite sanitation work as a great job for good people. I think everyone hopes they get paid, we all hope the job gets done. The whole COVID-19 argument looks opportunistic.

  9. Huge RAVE to neighbors and the City of Edmonds! An enormous anonymous trash dump in the vicinity of 104th W and 237th/238th SW on Sunday morning including two dumpsters, old tires, a car bumper, a couch, needles, broken glass, and scrap lumber, along with bags and bags of garbage. Neighbors started cleaning up, and the city guys came out (on a Sunday morning!) and hauled it off. Thank you!

  10. No problems in my Edmonds neighborhood with garbage pickup, but we have a different company. Perhaps the rest of the city should consider WMNW in the future.

  11. Finally got our recycling picked up today, first since the week before Christmas. And we actually got our second garbage pickup, so things are improving with Republic.

  12. Our garbage was picked up on schedule this morning (Jan. 24). I agree with Matt that unions need to do a better job of explaining their reasons for striking.

    “Excessive overtime, pandemic safety, and harassment by managers” leaves me wanting some details. Excessive overtime is understandable. “Harassment by managers” could be very valid considering how little training there is for managers in all fields of work. I feel less sympathetic to the pandemic pay increase but might support it if someone explained how workers’ safety has been compromised any more than it is by going to a grocery store.

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