Durham Sanitation Workers' Stoppage Wins Same-Day Back Pay

January 25, 2008

Durham, NC

When Durham city sanitation workers found out, on the morning of Friday, January 4, that their pay for the previous week did not include their premium pay for working on Christmas, they were upset. And they decided to stick together and do something about it.

The workers gathered in the break room and confronted their supervisor, asking what had happened to their overtime pay. The supervisor called the acting director, who said the money would be paid the following week, and threatened the workers with write-ups unless they immediately got into their trucks and worked their routes. The workers – nearly 100 of them – responded, “You can’t write us all up,” and refused to move. Of the 43 sanitation trucks, 42 remained parked.

An assistant city manager, Wanda Page, then showed up and met with the workers. She said the person who normally enters the overtime pay was off for the holidays – and so was that person’s back-up. The workers didn’t buy that excuse and demanded to be paid. Page promised to have checks for the shorted wages cut and delivered to the workers by the end of the shift, if they’d work their routes. On that basis, the sanitation workers decided to return to work.

When workers returned from the end of routes, while waiting for their checks they met with Nathanette Mayo, a lab worker in Durham’s water deparment and UE 150’s Municipal Workers Coordinator; Ray Erquhart, retired Durham worker and UE activist; UE International Rep Saladin Muhammad and Field Organizer Dennis Orton. They planned a follow-up meeting for the following Monday.

Not only did the sanitation workers’ action get them the pay that was owed them, on the same day. It also resulted in many other city workers getting their holiday pay without further delay. “Because they took a stand, they won a victory for many workers,” says Nathanette Mayo.

When a delegation of sanitation workers met with UE 150 leaders on January 7, they made plans for further action. They decided to circulate a workers’ fairness petition, which calls for a city policy guaranteeing on-time payment for overtime; an expanded grievance procedure (not limited, as it now is, to discipline issues); and an end to the city’s practice of suspending workers from their jobs as punishment for late payment of city taxes.

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