A settlement agreement between Kitsap County and Waste Management calls for the company to pay an $83,150 fine for missed yard waste and recycling pickups in the summer and fall of 2021, when the company said it was hampered by a shortage of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company will also offer credits worth $34,658.63 to residential recycling and yard waste customers who experienced missed pickups between July 1, 2021, and December 3, 2021, according to the settlement. That’s on top of what the company said was $448,389.39 worth of credits it offered to Kitsap County residential customers for collections missed from July to December as a result of its driver shortage.
The agreement — which has been signed onto by executives with Waste Management, an attorney in the state Attorney General’s Office, a senior Kitsap County prosecuting attorney and Kitsap County commissioners — is subject to the approval of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC).
UTC staff found there were 16,630 violations of state laws and rules for missed recycling and yard waste pickups from July to August 2021, according to the settlement. It was determined that there were 3,810 missed yard waste collections in July and 12,820 missed recycling collections in August. The penalties of $83,150 were based on $5 per missed pickup.
The UTC received 158 customer complaints or inquiries about Waste Management service disruptions in Kitsap County from July to December 2021.
UTC staff determined that a driver shortage is not an approved reason for missed service.
Kitsap County Commissioner Ed Wolfe, who in August 2021 filed a formal grievance with the UTC against Waste Management, called the process of coming to a settlement “a long road.”
“Am I completely satisfied with it? No, but we moved forward, and we did something for our community — particularly those that utilize Waste Management Services,” Wolfe said. “It’s not just the monetary part of it. If it ever happens again, we can get to this much quicker and get a resolution.”
As part of the settlement, Waste Management must submit a contingency plan outlining a process to maintain sufficient staffing levels and steps it will take to quickly restore service should there be a worker shortage in the future. It must also develop a statewide communication and customer outreach plan to improve customer communication during major service disruptions in the company’s UTC service areas.
Gary Chittim, Waste Management communications manager, said the company “took an aggressive approach to address the driver shortage in Kitsap County,” including hiring new drivers with signing bonuses and increasing wages.
“Our new drivers are now trained and on the job, serving our community,” he said, adding that the company was able to achieve adequate staffing levels in early December.
“We understand this situation was frustrating for our Kitsap County customers. That’s why we voluntarily issued credits totaling $448,000 to residential and multifamily customers before the WUTC filed a complaint. We made the decision to issue credits to affirm our commitment to reliable service for Kitsap County,” Chittim said.