Tentative Garbage Deal May Prove You Really Can Strike in a Recession

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Waste Management needed weeks to train replacement workers to drive one of these.
It took less than a week after a two-day strike by garbage workers for a deal to be struck between Teamsters Local 174 and Waste Management. Last night, both sides announced that they had reached a tentative contract agreement, to be voted on by union members this Sunday.

Neither side is revealing specifics of the proposed contract, so it's impossible to say if there is a clear winner. "There were concessions on both sides" is all Teamsters Local 174 spokesperson Michael Gonzales will say.

But given the upper hand that Waste Management seemed to have, one might have thought that the company would have let the union sweat a little longer before coming to an agreement. After all, Waste Management let it be known that more than 2,000 people had responded to its ads for replacement workers. That's on top of the workers it had flown in from out of town.

Turns out, however, that the company's hardball tactics had some soft spots.

When the strike occurred, it became apparent that employing replacement workers was not as easy as it seemed. Given the complexity of operating garbage trucks, the company said it needed weeks to train local applicants. And Waste Management had by that time flown its already-trained out-of-town workers home. They had to be brought in again.

So for two days last week, nobody was collecting garbage.

"We were as surprised as anyone," says Gonzales. He says the union was so certain that replacement drivers would hit the streets immediately that it stationed mobile picketers at the company's facilities on day one of the strike. The plan was to have those picketers follow the garbage trucks that went out.

Meanwhile, Seattle Public Utilities was telling Waste Management that it had exactly one week to get its act together before it started levying steep fines for missed pick-ups.

If the Teamsters did, in fact, win significant concessions, it will have proved a point: Maybe you can stage a strike in the middle of the recession, at least if the leverage is piles of stinking garbage.

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