On Monday, September 11, workers from the City of Durham Solid Waste Department stood down, beginning the second week of their determined action to protest low pay. An overwhelming majority of all the workers in Solid Waste Services have stood together and not loaded their trucks for six days in a row.
Last week, the City attempted to intimidate workers in the Public Works Department to operate the Solid Waste machinery, despite not having the proper training. This is a major safety violation. Over the weekend, the City entered into a contract with private solid waste collection companies to pick up the garbage. These companies are also not properly training their operators to collect garbage, yard waste, recycling and bulky items. It has been reported that recycling items are getting thrown into the same trucks as garbage. The money to pay these private companies is coming from the same fund that could be paying the city workers the $5,000 bonus that they are demanding.
Today, workers announced at a press conference that they will be returning to work effective tomorrow Tuesday, September 12. Since Friday, September 8, management has been threatening workers with leave without pay, in an effort to bully workers back to work.
Workers are returning to work not because their demands have been met, but because they want to keep their commitment to the community by keeping it clean and healthy for everyone.
Workers expressed their deep appreciation for all the community support, including nearly $40,000 in a solidarity GoFundMe fund to support their families while out of work.
“We are here because of our low pay. We are not getting paid for the hazardous work that we do. The Solid Waste department has threatened us with leave without pay. We don’t think that is fair. We are going to do what we have to do to get our pay, because we deserve it. Those of us that have sick leave, we should be able to use it,” stated Herman Moore, solid waste operator and Durham City Workers Union UE150 member. Moore continued, “we thank the citizens of Durham for all those that have supported us, and all those that contributed to our GoFundMe page. We really do appreciate it. We are gonna clean the city up. That is for the citizens. It is not because we are giving up, because we are not giving up.”
“We stand in solidarity as a unit. Tomorrow is the effective date that we are starting to clean up the city of Durham”, stated Christopher Benjamin, solid waste operator and Durham City Workers Union UE150 member. Benjamin continued, “We owe the community. We owe the citizens. Thank you for being patient. Thank you for the love and support you have given us. We are still fighting. We are going back to City Council meeting on September 18 as a unit in solidarity and will be continuing to fight. We still need results moving forward.”
The demand for the $5,000 is a result of essential workers having their Step Pay frozen for 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of the FY2023, the city had over $18.3 Million in cash on top of their $42 million in reserves. It is estimated that the $5,000 will cost the city an less than $10 million. This is not a reoccurring expenditure and will cost the residents of Durham nothing. It will not require tax increases. The money is already there.
In addition to the immediate demand of $5,000, workers are also demanding that in the next years budget cycle the minimum wage for city employees be increased to $25 per hour. For solid waste collectors, the minimum pay should be increased to $28 per hour. For heavy equipment operators, the minimum should be increased to $35 per hour.
Workers also announced two upcoming actions.
Tonight, Monday, September 11 there will be a mass rally at City Hall at 7:00pm. Community, faith and other labor leaders from across Durham are scheduled to be in attendance to support the just demands of the city workers. City workers from Raleigh, Greensboro, Rocky Mount and Charlotte are also scheduled to be in town to show their solidarity.
Workers are also scheduled to rally and speak-out at the next City Council meeting, which is scheduled for the evening of September 18. It is at this meeting that workers are demanding the $5,000 be approved.
Press may contact Dante Strobino, UE International Representative at 919-539-2051 for questions. Press is invited to attend the rally tonight and city council meeting on Monday, September 18 to interview workers.
The Durham City Workers Union is a chapter of the NC Public Service Workers Union, UE Local 150 which has over 5,800 members that work in municipalities, state facilities and private industries across sixteen counties stretching from Morganton to Kinston, North Carolina. Learn more at ue150.org or follow us on Twitter or Facebook @UE150union