Durham sanitation strike

The courageous Durham, North Carolina, sanitation workers, members of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150, ended their six-day strike Sept. 12 amid threats from the City Council to suspend them without pay. Despite these union-busting tactics, the workers will continue their struggle; a rally is set for Sept. 18 at Durham City Hall. 

This is an all too familiar scenario where essential workers continue to be mistreated by their bosses. The sanitation workers have legitimate concerns around hazardous conditions due to the nature of their work and severe understaffing. 

Durham, North Carolina, sanitation workers on strike Sept. 6-11, 2023. Photo: Durham Community Fridges

Vincent Williams, a stormwater maintenance worker, stated that his department is responsible for providing safe drinking water for city residents, but, unbelievably, only four workers are employed for this task. Keisha Barnette, a city employee for 24 years, explained that the workforce failed to grow as the city grew. Willie Brown, from the public works department, reported that 48 workers share the burden of public works jobs meant for a workforce of 177!  

The workers’ demands include a $5,000 bonus, a wage increase and for all temporary workers to be made full time. Weighing in on the labor struggle, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People stated: “One significant factor in the development of the strike appears to be the very success of our city and this region, which is attracting people from all over the country to move here and has driven up the cost of housing for city employees and other long time residents who want to live in Durham.” (The News and Observer, Sept. 11)

The city can well afford to compensate the Durham workers without raising taxes, according to union organizer Dante Strobino. The Durham general fund has money available. One commenter rightly pointed out that the city allows corporations to use loopholes to avoid paying taxes.

Favorable social media comments support the Durham workers, and a petition to  the City Council is circulating. The rally Sept. 18 will coincide with the Durham City Council voting on whether to provide relief to these union workers.

Virginia Tech workers form unions

On Sept. 5, graduate students, staff and faculty at Virginia Tech university rallied on campus and announced they are fighting on behalf of campus workers. Two unions have been formed: the Virginia Tech Graduate Labor Union and the United Campus Workers-Virginia Tech. 

VT GLU is affiliated with the Virginia Education Association. Of the full-time graduate students at Virginia Tech, 84% are employees of the university. UCW-VT is part of the Communications Workers (CWA) and is open to all faculty and staff. Labor law in Virginia puts restrictions on collective bargaining at state-funded schools. The VT workers say that part of their organizing will focus on advocating for labor laws that benefit workers. 

The two unions will work in solidarity with each other in efforts to make university administrators meet their demands for better working conditions and compensation. 

Washington Parish school workers strike

Teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians in Washington Parish, Louisiana, are demanding the school board take them seriously. The workers demonstrated how essential they are to that community when they called a strike that effectively delayed the start of the new school year. The school is open, using a skeleton crew of line-crossers while most workers are still on the picket line along with parent and student supporters. 

A living wage is the top demand. At an emergency meeting, school board members heard how wage increases are not distributed fairly, with raises going to district central office workers and not teachers and school staff. One teacher explained that every raise she received came with a jump in her health insurance premium. 

Kevin Knight, a cafeteria worker, said the only wage increase he has received in his 15 years employment is through stipends provided by the state. Yet both the superintendent and assistant superintendent receive a 2% wage increase every year. Their salaries are over $100,000 and $90,000 respectively. (wdsu.com)

Marie Kelly

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Marie Kelly

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