- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

A strike by local workers of the nation’s largest private garbage hauling company yesterday disrupted trash service for hundreds of Prince George’s County residents.

Forest Heights Mayor Myles Spires Jr. said about 300 homes missed trash collections because of the strike at Waste Management Inc., which began Monday.

“The timing is incredible because we’ve been talking about moving to a system of having our own trucks,” Mr. Spires said.

Officials for Waste Management, which has 38,000 residential accounts in Prince George’s and 7,700 commercial collections in the metropolitan area, said the company has lined up replacement workers from out of the area to perform the duties of the striking workers.

Company spokeswoman Lisa Kardell called the problem in Forest Heights “an isolated situation.”

“We have experienced some minor short-term service issues,” Miss Kardell said. “We are working diligently to resolve them.”

Thomas F. Matzen, deputy director for the Prince George’s Department of Environmental Resources, said the county would consider sending out its own trucks, if needed, to pick up trash, but he doesn’t expect the “worst case scenario” to happen.

“Waste Management is committing to us that they can meet the requirements they have,” Mr. Matzen said.

As the week began, 88 sanitation workers represented by the Teamsters Union Local 639 went on strike, citing rising costs for health care coverage and reductions in retirement benefits.

“The strike is about dignity and respecting these workers’ contributions,” said Noa Oren, spokeswoman for the Teamsters.

Miss Kardell said the company’s offer is “more than fair” and “at or above average wages and benefit package.” But the Teamsters contend the deal is unfair because of cuts in take-home pay and employer-paid retirement benefits.

The workers’ contract expired last fall.

Miss Kardell said strike-related problems with trash collections will become less frequent as Waste Management’s out-of-state employees become familiar with the local routes.

However, Miss Oren said the problems won’t go away until the strike ends.

“Our workers are professional and know the routes and know the cities, and that’s not something you can do away with and expect to get the job done,” she said.

About 100 Waste Management workers are striking in New York City, where the company has about 10,000 commercial accounts. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said city trucks would be used if commercial trash isn’t collected.

D.C. officials are giving no such assurances.

“We look to the private haulers to handle their own business,” said D.C. Department of Public Works spokeswoman Mary Myers, whose department handles residential trash collection. Miss Myers said the city’s fleet of garbage trucks don’t have the equipment needed to service commercial businesses.

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