City of Durham Solid Waste Workers Stand Down in Protest for Higher Wages, Better Conditions, Justice

Sep 7, 2023

Vincent Daniels, Public Workers, Stormwater

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Dante Strobino, UE International Representative –, 919-539-2051

Durham, NC – After packing the Durham City Council meeting the previous night, Durham Solid Waste workers stood down on the morning of September 6 and did not load their work trucks in protest of the city’s lack of needed pay increases. They were joined by workers from other city departments and community supporters.

“There should be over 40 trucks on the road right now gathering trash and recycling. As far as I know, we’re all standing in solidarity together, and I don’t think any trucks went out,” said Christopher Benjamin, a City of Durham Solid Waste worker. “We’re going to make a stand until they come and talk to us, and then we can move forward with that process.”

For weeks, workers with the City of Durham have been signing a petition which they presented to City Council on September 5, calling for:

  1. Immediate $5000 bonus,
  2. Pay workers for all work outside their job title, and
  3. Hire all temporary workers permanent

In June, the city council voted against a raise for city employees to catch up for the two years of the Step Pay Plan that they skipped during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers are disappointed with the raise they received, which does not keep up with inflation and rising cost-of-living. Since 2019, wages have gone up 15% but inflation and cost-of-living has gone up 23%. Effectively an 8% pay cut. Workers will receive between a total of 6-8% pay increase this year.

Increasingly, city workers are forced to work second jobs and still are not able to afford to rent or own a house inside Durham city limits, the city that they help maintain. Vacancy rates, especially in the Public works departments (over 120 of the department’s 177 positions are currently empty), are increasingly high, adding additional stress and workload to underpaid workers.

“I’m part of a crew that does storm water maintenance. We’re under-manned, under-staffed, there’s a total of six of us all together, but there’s only four of us working because there are two out on temporary disability. But we can’t get the manpower that we need to facilitate the work that needs to be done for the city. We’re struggling,” said Vincent Daniels, a CIty of Durham Storm Water Maintenance worker. “We maintain the sewer system, we make sure that fresh drinking water gets to your home. There’s only four of us doing the entire city of Durham. And it’s killing us. We have safety issues, we have flagging issues, we have work issues. We work in inclement weather, hot weather, and we’re struggling to get to you guys and we can’t keep up. They’re not paying us what we’re worth, nowhere near what we’re worth. The cost of living has gone up but the pay stays the same. They keep making promises and not delivering.”

Public records have revealed that at the end of Fiscal Year 2023 (June 30, 2023), the city had $18.3 million left in the General Fund above the $42 million in the reserve fund. $5.4 million of this money is directly from lapsed salary and benefits not paid dues to vacancies. The $5,000 bonus for general employees would cost the city between $8-10 million.

“Safety is always a concern for me. If you get hurt, you’re out of work and don’t get paid. When you’re undermanned like that, you’re putting me in a situation where it becomes very hazardous. We run into anything in that sewer system, needles, snakes, all kinds of things. It’s very dangerous,” said Willie Brown, a City of Durham Public Works worker. “I think we should be compensated fairly for the work we do. We are extremely underpaid.”

A community rally is planned to support the workers demands today (September 6) at 1pm at 1833 Camden Ave. Workers and supporters plan to speak out at the City Council work session on Thursday, September 7, at 1pm at City Hall.