Raleigh Sanitation Struggle Continues, Workers Winning Major Victories

November 7, 2006

Raleigh sanitation workers have continued their fight for justice, following a courageous two-day work stoppage in September that captured statewide and worldwide attention. As reported in the last UE NEWS, the workers followed their job action by signing up as UE members, picketing city hall, building massive community support, and putting very specific demands, with deadlines, before the Raleigh city council.

Their militancy and organization is paying off dramatically. Forced, unpaid overtime – a major cause of the workers’ protests – has ended; all overtime now is voluntary and paid. The city has hired more sanitation workers, and made all temporary workers with at least six months service permanent city employees. (This last provision is a victory for all city workers – it applies to all departments.)

The workers had demanded regular “meet and confer” sessions with Mayor Charles Meeker and city council member James West. They’ve now got that, and the workers have elected their Meet and Confer committee members: Jerry Ledbetter, John Cutler, Lonnie Habuda, Jimmy Gaye, and John T. McNeal as the alternate. The workers also voted to include UE Local 150 President Angaza Laughinghouse in the meet and confer meetings, and requested the presence of Dennis Orton of the International Worker Justice Campaign, The city agreed. The inclusion of the UE 150 president is recognition by the city that the workers are represented by UE.

Sanitation workers also won payroll deduction of UE 150 dues, and so far over 100 workers are having their union dues checked off.

BIG INCREASE IN ENTRY RATES

Through the meet and confer process, UE 150 got the city to acknowledge that its entry level pay rates were 20% below the norm for North Carolina cities. As a result, the city council has approved three 5% step increases for all entry level jobs this year, and another 5% raise for next year. That’s 20% in raises for the lowest paid workers, and applies to workers in Solid Waste Services (Sanitation, Recycling, Yard Waste); Public Works (Street Maintenance and Fleet Maintencance); Public Utilities (Water and Sewer); and Parks & Recreation.)

Two bosses in the Solid Waste department whom the workers feel were major causes of problems have now been removed. (One retired and one was transferred.) The city is conferring with the union over their replacements, as well as over the choice of an outside consultant to review routes.

The workers’ demand for “no harrassment, no retaliation” has also produced results. The city agreed to review all past suspensions, back to July 1. Of the five cases that have been reviewed, four suspensions have been overturned. The city has also agreed to review any written reprimands the union brings to the meet and confer process. Sanitation have also achieved protection of their right to take approved leave: such leaves, including doctor-approved medical absences, will no longer have any negative effect on workers’ annual evaluations.

BUILDING ORGANIZATION

Besides their elected Meet and Confer Committee, the sanitation workers have formed four other committees to carry forward their struggle. The Community Outreach Committee is arranging radio appearances, bringing the UE message to Raleigh neighborhoods with the union sound truck, providing community supporters with yard signs and stickers, and organizing support by small business. The Legal Committee is helping members with Workers’ Compensation claims and providing forms for workers to ask to see their personnel files. (So far at least 30 workers have done so.)

There is also a Literature and Media Committee and a Fundraising Committee. Workers are now discussing how to establish shop stewards, and reaching out to organize workers in other city departments. They have also established links to other organizations of city workers – Local 548 of the Fire Fighters Association, and the two police organizations, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and Police Protective Association. The fire fighters and police share UE 150’s goal of gaining the legal right to negotiate labor contracts.

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