BREMERTON — Labor shortages for Waste Management in Bremerton meant yard waste was left uncollected for some customers twice in July.
Commissioner Ed Wolfe first became aware of the issue on July 30 when one of his constituents wrote to him. By Aug. 3, he said his email inbox was full of complaints from residents about the lack of service. Wolfe estimated 1,500 residents were impacted by the disruption in pickups.
In an Aug. 4 letter to Mark Johnson, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee’s executive secretary, Wolfe expressed the concern about the two missed collection dates.
Wolfe asked Johnson, in his position as Waste Management’s regulator, to advocate for the service to return and for customers to be reimbursed for missed services.
The following day, Waste Management responded with the actions they would take, which included a one-month credit to all customers who were not serviced two times in July and a collection of all missed materials at no additional charge.
The company has reimbursed affected customers and apologized for the inconvenience, but the labor shortage lingers.
Labor shortage is to blame
Laura Moser, Waste Management’s public sector manager, and Robert Hall, the company’s district manager, sent a letter to Wolfe on Aug. 10 explaining why there had been interruptions in service.
In the letter, the managers state that “Waste Management, like dozens of other industries, is experiencing a considerable labor shortage.” The company said it is short six drivers in Bremerton. Because of this shortage, the managers explained that for the service weeks of July 12 and July 26, the company did not have enough drivers to service both yard waste and recycle. The decision to skip yard waste was made because this service is subscription-based and serves fewer customers, the letter stated. Gary Chittim, communications manager for Waste Management, said the company prioritizes garbage for health and safety concerns, followed by recycling and yard waste.
The company will automatically reimburse these customers with a one-month yard waste credit of $8.47. It also stated in the letter that an apology will be extended to each affected customer. Chittim said the increased demand for home delivery during the pandemic created a driver shortage across North America.
The company is actively trying to combat the labor shortage. It held a hiring fair on Aug. 12 in Bremerton, which Chittim said had a good turnout in which 34 applicants were interviewed for driver openings and other positions. Waste Management is also offering a $2,000 signing bonus and giving eligible employees the opportunity to earn a college degree at no cost to them, according to a news release sent on Aug. 3.
Wolfe hopes these benefits will attract workers and mitigate the issue — one he’s still concerned about.
“I think that Waste Management is handling the situation adequately under the circumstances,” Wolfe said.
Broadly, the county commissioner said he sees the effect of the labor shortage across the county, particularly in the hospitality and service industries. Wolfe said he hears from folks on a daily basis who have been impacted by this.
The missed collection didn’t just result in the inconvenience of full bins for some customers. Wolfe said it was the materials in them that had him concerned about fire danger.
Dry materials increase the hazard for fires
In the letter, Wolfe explained that in addition to the “unsightly appearance of uncollected trash,” the situation increases fire danger in the community. Wolfe said uncollected yard waste means more dry materials and potential fuel for fires at a time when the county is already experiencing a hotter, drier summer. And in conversations with Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Wolfe said he has come to understand that hospital wait times are up. This could mean that emergency staff may be caught up in lines and unable to respond to fires, he said.
As of Aug. 16, there were no wildfires currently burning in Kitsap County, according to the Department of Natural Resources’ fire dashboard.