(Seattle, WA) As a part of its Puget Sound public relations blitz, Waste Management (WMI) has been tossing around figures, claiming first that area sanitation workers are paid on average $77,000 annually and that the union is holding out for wage increases of 25 percent. Now WMI has inflated its own numbers, asserting that the company is offering to pay union garbage drivers $100,000 a year.
“WMI is grossly inflating these numbers in an effort to obscure the real issue at hand – the company’s disregard for the dangers that garbage haulers face every day to protect the public health,” said Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks. “The bottom line is that the Union is proposing the same economic package that a local company, CleanScapes, already offers sanitation workers who perform the same work.”
According to Hicks, sanitation workers at WMI regularly report company retaliation for workplace injuries and intimidation for reporting safety hazards. They say they are discouraged from filing L & I workers’ compensation claims and forced to work mandatory overtime.
“A sanitation worker is more likely to die on the job than firefighters or police officers,” said Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer Tracey A. Thompson. “Workers are regularly exposed to rotting meat, maggots, syringes, asbestos, and blood products. In the fifth most dangerous job in the United States, workers see WMI’s practices as a threat to their own personal safety and to the safety of the communities they serve.”
Monica Zebley, a garbage driver at a WMI facility in Kirkland, is one of countless sanitation workers in the region who have been hurt on the job.
"After getting injured, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep at night,” Zebley said. “When I went to management to report the injury, they asked me to quit. I had to get a lawyer just to file a claim with L & I.”
“A lot of our drivers are working 50-60 hours a week, which is usually forced overtime – that increases our chances for accidents,” said garbage driver Roderick Holmes. “We just want to make it home each night, with 10 fingers and 10 toes, to our families.”
Thompson and Hicks say that before the threat of a labor dispute, WMI was unwilling to hire new drivers, electing instead to force garbage and recycling drivers to work 10 to 12 hours a day.
“Under normal circumstances, hiring new drivers would help boost the local economy and take the pressure off of these workers. Now with a looming strike, WMI would rather exploit the local labor market to find temporary strikebreakers than keep decent jobs in this region,” Thompson said.
Hicks points out that the cities in our region, as the customers of waste companies, have a responsibility not just to make sure that the waste is picked up, but also to ensure that the companies doing the work are performing it with experienced drivers who will not pose a danger to our communities.
“Importing strikebreakers from out-of-state and hiring temporary replacements does not fulfill that requirement,” Hicks said.