Why were Republic Services workers in Washington striking this month?

Why workers were picketing earlier this October

Bellevue residents might have noticed garbage and recycling pile-up in and around the city earlier this month.

About 250 workers combined from the Bellevue, Kent and Lynnwood arms of Republic Services, the second-largest waste collector in the United States, went on strike on Oct. 3 in solidarity with striking workers in Marshfield, Mass. Garbage in 10 Washington cities — the majority of which are on the Eastside — were not collected during the striking period.

Protests in the Washington cities concluded on Oct. 7. About 500,000 customers were impacted by the picketing.

“Republic Services is servicing critical customers in the affected areas today and will pick up any missed collections as soon as possible,” Republic Services said in a news release.

The Massachusetts picketers, who are members of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston, started striking on Aug. 29 after Republic Services didn’t agree to sign a contract seeking higher wages and more affordable health care. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, which in turn was cited in a recent press release from the Teamsters International Union, the sanitation workers in question are paid below 40 percent of the livable wage for a family with one adult and one child living in Massachusetts.

Bernie Egan-Mullen, a striking Republic Services employee, noted in a press release that the company made about $3 billion last year in profits.

“Instead of providing safe working conditions and industry-standard healthcare retirement plans, the company is using its record profits to pay out huge salaries to its executives and huge dividends to its largest shareholder, Bill Gates,” Egan-Mullen said.

In addition to Gates being a Republic shareholder, Michael Larson, Gates’ personal investment manager, is on the company’s board of directors. Part of Washington’s solidarity to their Massachusetts counterparts has to do with the role Gates, who currently lives in Medina plays in the company and the state.

About 24 percent of the company’s workforce is unionized, with the union representing about 7,000 employees across the states.

Teamsters Local 25 president Sean O’Brien invoked the imbalance between the dangers posed by the job versus what workers receive in return in a press release.

“Sanitation work is the fifth most dangerous job in America,” he said. “Sanitation workers are two times as likely to die on the job as police officers and nearly seven times more likely to die on the job than firefighters. This company has forced quite a few strikes in cities across America over the past few years, when it has violated federal labor laws and has refused to address conditions of inequality and unsafe conditions.”

Washington Republic Services workers were not the only employees of the national company to go on strike. In California, employees of northern and southern sects voted in the majority to strike against the company. And in September, Republic Services employees based in Cumming, Ga., protested federally protected workers’ rights violations allegedly made by the company.

In total, workers across 10 cities, which comprise about 1 million residents, are in contract negotiations with the company.