LAUREL – Trash workers came to a four-year collective bargaining agreement with Unity Disposal and Recycling after nearly two weeks of striking and meetings with a federal mediator. The agreement includes pay raises, paid time off and a written disciplinary policy.
More than 50 workers, including drivers and “helpers” who haul the trash into the truck, went on strike for higher pay on Dec. 26 after voting to join Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) local chapter 657 in March. This is the workers’ first contract with Unity, one of three waste disposal companies that provide services for Montgomery County.
“We stood up and we insisted that we all be treated with respect and paid fairly,” said Unity helper Francisco Fuentes to LIUNA mid-Atlantic. “We stuck together, we kept our eyes on the finish line, and we now have a new contract that recognizes the value of the work we do and allows us to better support our families.”
Prior to the contract, Unity drivers generally made less than $30,000 per year and helpers made less than $25,000 per year, according to LIUNA spokesperson Michael Blain. The new contract provides a 5 to 7 percent pay raise in 2015 and then follows Consumer Price Index adjustments for the remaining three years.
According to Blain, the contract also provides for two weeks of paid vacation, higher compensation for paid holidays and more bonus pay for workers who have been with the company for longer than seven years.
Some workers also had to work additional routes without additional pay, according to Blain, and now the contract provides some extra money for an additional route.
“The fact is that I’m lifting 15-20 tons and my job is very dangerous riding on the back of the vehicle and they’re not even trying to pay me a decent wage. That is what brought me out to strike,” said helper Damion West during the strike.
The workers were on strike until they agreed to return to work on Jan. 7 and continue to negotiate through a federal mediator.
According to Unity spokesperson London Bryson, the workers had agreed to work with the mediator over New Year’s and then broke that agreement from the company’s point of view when they continued to strike on Jan. 2, against the recommendations of the union.
However, some LIUNA representatives continued to meet with a federal mediator on Jan. 6 prior to returning to work Jan. 7.
“Our union operates democratically and the workers voted to remain on strike due to a lack of progress in negotiations. That decision did not in any way reduce our ongoing efforts to resolve this dispute,” Blain said at the time.
Throughout the strike, the county told residents in the affected areas – 12,600 homes each day in Bethesda, Aspen Hill, Colesville/North Silver Spring and recycling north of Gaithersburg – to continue putting their trash out on assigned days by 7 a.m. as normal. Robin Ennis, chief of collections for the Division of Solid Waste Services (DSWS), said any delays on a given day were more likely due to the holidays than to the strike.
The county also added extra inspectors to the routes to ensure everything was running smoothly.
“This is not our first strike. It’s our fourth strike actually, so we are getting accustomed to how we need operate and…extra manpower is one of the things we need to do,” Ennis said during the strike.