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On the picket line

September 15, 2006 | Page 11

Waste Management Inc.
By Darrin Hoop

SEATTLE--In the early hours of September 11, a tentative settlement was reached to end a three-day strike against Waste Management Inc. (WM) by 45 mechanics, members of Teamsters Local 174.

The strike, which left 34,000 households in North King and Snohomish counties without garbage service on September 8, was the largest in the industry in Seattle-area history. Both sides have declined to discuss the details of the settlement until the mechanics vote on it Tuesday evening.

The mechanics are responsible for the safety and maintenance of several hundred trucks that pick up garbage and recycling for upwards of a million people. The strike's strength came from the 350 WM truck drivers, also members of Local 174, who refused to cross the mechanics picket line.

The tentative settlement Monday morning came within hours of the union threatening to spread the strike from the suburbs into the northern half of Seattle. The contract initially expired on December 31, 2005.

The strike came on the heels of the garbage drivers, who have a separate contract, agreeing on a settlement with WM on May 7, only to see management refuse to sign the agreement until August. A WM spokesperson said the unresolved issues included wages, pensions and health insurance.

WM offered to increase mechanics pay from $24 to $26 an hour. But for mechanics, who have to pay to earn certification in skills such as computerized engine tune-up and spend $30,000 to $50,000 to buy their tools, that isn't enough.

According to Dan Scott, secretary-treasurer of Local 174, the key issue is a company demand to force the mechanics to pay for health care premiums. The cost would be $130 a month for a single mechanic and $285 a month for family coverage.

For the nation's largest garbage company to demand workers pay more for health care is quite rich. According to a July 28 financial statement on the WM Web site, its second quarter net income was $417 million.In 2005, CEO David Steiner's total compensation was $6,203,062.

In fact, the top five WM executives 2005 compensation if distributed equally could give a $324,230 increase in pay and benefits to each of the 45 mechanics who struck. Eric Black, a mechanic for 17 years, summed up their fight with WM well when he told the Seattle Times, "It's amazing. They can spend all that money on fines, but can't spend a little bit getting mechanics what they want. "I guess that's Corporate America."

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