Seattle union sees volunteer park clean-up as job threat



Posted on April 19, 2011 at 7:20 PM

SEATTLE – A union for Seattle city park workers is fighting a private company's offer to help clean up a downtown park for free.

Local trash hauling firm Cleanscapes began with a simple idea: Clean up Pioneer Square of its grime, dirt and graffiti. The company has since grown to a multi-million dollar business. Now the company's efforts to clean up the streets and parks in Seattle are under fire.

Last year, Cleanscapes began having its non-union employees power wash streets, cover up graffiti and clean up trash in Seattle.

"We do a lot in the community philanthropically," said Cleanscapes Government Affairs manager John Taylor. "While other companies do things like sponsor a sports team, we want to do something tangible in the community."

The company already has contracts to clean up Safeco Field and other large commercial properties. Taylor says the company is using the same employees to clean the streets for free.

"My concern is their volunteer work is more to promote their business," said Laborers Local 1239 Business Manager Ian Gordon. The union representative is concerned that Cleanscapes isn't completely altruistic.

In 2011, the Seattle Parks Department had its budget slashed by $11 million, according to parks spokesperson Dewey Potter. The 42 maintenance workers had their hours slashed.

"Anytime work is taken away, that is money take out of their pockets," said Gordon. The union chief said park workers are disturbed that their jobs are being taken over.

"We are not doing anything that is taking a job away from any represented employees," said Taylor. While the crews that clean the streets are non-union, Cleanscapes says it has a good relationship with its unionized trash haulers.

"What we are doing is extra, that people don't have time to get to," said Taylor.

Seattle City Parks is working to allow Cleanscapes to "adopt a park" like hundreds of other volunteer organizations. Potter said the parks department wants to make sure the Cleanscapes employees are not doing the same work or using the same equipment as park workers.