Durham solid waste workers cease strike, planning to resume garbage collection Tuesday
Updated at 7:03 p.m., Sept. 11, 2023 to note that after the initial publication of this story, the workers have ended their strike
Sanitation workers in Durham have ended their strike and are returning to work on Tuesday.
The workers announced in a press release Monday that they are heading back to work "to keep their commitment to the community."
Since Sept. 6, Durham's garbage collectors went on strike, leaving full trash cans around the city's neighborhoods. They demonstrated in the city's center, wearing bright yellow shirts as they demanded higher pay.
A variety of supporters gathered with them and pledged cash to help keep workers afloat while they stopped working. The workers' union set up a GoFundMe page that has already raised over $40,000.
Montrell Perry is one of those workers who rides on the back of the truck. He called his line of work a rough sport.
"You're trying to hurry up. You're trying to get out the hot sun, you're trying to get out the cold, you're trying to get out the rain," Perry said.
Perry said he makes less than $18 an hour from the city.
"That means you got to go work two jobs," Perry said. "I work with Durham Public Schools, so my day isn't just over after I ground and pound out here. I still got to go pound some more, pound some more, pound some more, just to make sure I have enough."
UE local 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, has supported these Durham workers, and outlined their demands:
- Immediate $5,000 bonus.
- Pay workers for all work outside their job title.
- Hire all temporary workers permanent.
Last week, sanitation workers spoke at a city council work session. Durham Mayor Elaine O'Neal also had on yellow and said she supported their demands.
"And it's by accident that I had on these colors, but it was by God, I believe. I'm standing with you today, tomorrow, and every day," O'Neal said as workers applauded.
But not everyone on the council agreed. Simply handing out $5,000 isn't so easy, said Mayor Pro-Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton.
"Because if we do, we'll be good for about a year and a half, and afterwards, then we won't be able to pay you anymore," he said.
Workers say that's not true. They say the city could pull from savings to pay them bonuses and give them higher pay raises. Durham, like all local governments, maintains a sort of savings account, but Middleton says it's bad policy to pull from that rainy day fund for bonuses.
Instead, Durham is working on a pay study for all employees.
"The reason why we're doing the study, is so we can do it responsibly, and make sure that we can keep doing it," Middleton said.
Since 2019, wages have gone up 15%, according to UE Local 150. But they say inflation and cost of living has increased 23%, amounting to an 8% pay cut.
The workers and their supporters are gathering Monday at 7 p.m. for a "Public Service Worker Solidarity Rally" at Durham City Hall.