Solid waste workers for the city refused to load their work trucks on the morning of Wednesday, September 6. They are demanding that the city make up for the two years their step pay plan was essentially frozen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There should be over 40 trucks on the road right now gathering trash and recycling. As far as I know, we’re all standing in solidarity together, and I don’t think any trucks went out,” said solid waste worker Christopher Benjamin. “We’re going to make a stand until they come and talk to us, and then we can move forward with that process.”
The solid waste workers were joined by workers from other city departments and community supporters.
“We’re under-manned, under-staffed … we can’t get the manpower that we need to facilitate the work that needs to be done for the city,” said storm water maintenance worker Vincent Daniels. “We maintain the sewer system, we make sure that fresh drinking water gets to your home. There’s only four of us doing the entire city of Durham. And it’s killing us.”
For weeks, city workers have been signing a petition which they presented to City Council on Tuesday. The petition calls for an immediate $5,000 bonus, for workers to be paid extra for all work outside of their job descriptions, and for the city to hire all temporary workers as permanent employees.
In June, the city council voted down a raise for city employees which would have made up for the two years workers did not receive step pay increases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers are disappointed with the raise they did receive, which does not keep up with inflation and rising cost-of-living. Since 2019, wages have gone up 15 percent but with inflation, the cost of living has gone up 23 percent — effectively an eight percent pay cut. Workers will receive a total pay increase this year of between six and eight percent.
Increasingly, city workers are forced to work second jobs and still are not able to afford to rent or own a house inside Durham city limits, the city that they help maintain. Vacancy rates are increasingly high, especially in the public works department, where over 120 of the department's 177 positions are currently empty.
“Safety is always a concern for me,” said public works worker Willie Brown. “When you’re undermanned like that, you’re putting me in a situation where it becomes very hazardous. We run into anything in that sewer system, needles, snakes, all kinds of things. It’s very dangerous.”
Following the stand down, workers and supporters held a community rally on Wednesday afternoon, and plan to speak out at the City Council work session today at 1pm at City Hall.