Stinky Paris: Garbage collectors strike over pay, cost cuts

As trash piled up on Paris streets because of a garbage collectors' strike, workers occupied a city building Thursday amid frustration over spending cuts across the French economy.

Tourists and Parisians sidestepped overflowing garbage bins as the strike entered its fourth day Thursday. City hall said about half of Paris' districts, or arrondissements, were affected and 45 percent of the city's 4,900 waste workers are on strike.

Unions, whose workers occupied waste incineration plants in the Paris region earlier this week, argue that wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living and too few garbage workers are eligible for promotion. City hall is negotiating with the workers but says it will take weeks to reach a solution.

Overflowing dustbins in Paris
Jacques LOIC | Photononstop | Getty Images

At least 200 garbage collectors, sewage workers and drivers pushed their way into the city hall building for the 10th arrondissement Thursday to press their demands. They waved union flags and a French tricolor from the building's balcony, then tore up municipal brochures and threw the shreds out the window like confetti.

The secretary general of the CGT Garbage Collectors union, Regis Vieceli, rallied the crowd through a bullhorn as activists chanted, "United, united, everyone!"

"We are not asking for the moon. A promotion means 70 euros ($79) more a month," said Vieceli, who said he earns 1,700 euros ($1,920) a month before taxes and payroll charges after 21 years as a garbage collector.

Workers across the French economy plan to protest later Thursday in Paris — including garbage collectors and workers from Air France, which saw violent protests this week over job cuts.

Images splashed worldwide of the Air France standoff — in which activists ripped suit jackets and shirts off airline executives and chased them down — embarrassed France's Socialist government. But while the intensity of the violence was shocking, the unions' complaints resonate with many French workers.

The French economy has dragged for years and unemployment is around 10 percent. The government is gradually cutting public spending to reduce the deficit.