Eastbourne, Hastings and Rother councils face disrupted refuse collections after a majority of GMB union Kier employees voted on industrial action.
The ballot covered 154 staff in three of the four local authorities involved in the East Sussex Waste Partnership.
It was instigated after claims of “bullying and intimidating attitudes of Kier management” and safety concerns over the bins used for glass recycling.
GMB senior organiser Charles Harrity said: “The refuse street cleansing and recycling contracts in Eastbourne, Hastings and Rother covering local authorities in East Sussex have been beset by problems from the outset. This is as a result of Keir ignoring the concerns of staff related to the conditions of work or treatment of their staff.
“The official ballot result shows the workforce have reached breaking point and there is a lot pent up anger and frustration at the attitude of the company.
“GMB calls on the company to recognise that there are real industrial relations problems on these contracts and to avoid a complete breakdown in industrial relations they need to meet with the GMB and all local GMB representatives sooner rather than later so that the immediate problems can be addressed and a way forward can be agreed.”
A company spokesperson said: “Kier takes the concern of employee well-being and health & safety very seriously. We have been in active discussions with the GMB about a number of issues and these include two instances where safety and well-being were actually our paramount concern, but our management of these instances has not been supported by the GMB.
“These instances relate to breaches by five employees of our drugs and alcohol abuse policy and a case of potential gross misconduct, bullying and intimidation within the workforce, which we take a zero tolerance approach to. It is disappointing that the GMB takes the view that it is appropriate to condone this behaviour.
“We are disappointed to hear that some GMB members have decided to strike, though it is less than a quarter (22%) of our 377-strong workforce. We believe we have listened to employees and have robust health & safety procedures in place to protect our people.
“We remain fully committed to ongoing discussions with the GMB and if they choose to continue with industrial action then we have a full contingency plan to maintain continuity of service for the communities we serve.”
Kier signed a 10-year contract worth £30m to provide waste and recycling services for Eastbourne Borough, Hastings Borough, Rother District and Wealden District councils in December 2012.
The contract covers around 200,000 residents across 550 square miles.
GMB members employed by Kier in North Somerset recently called off strike action after voting unanimously to accept an improved offer over pay as part of a two-year deal.