Local News

Sanitation Workers Meet With City Manager, Union Rep

Posted September 14, 2006

— For the second consecutive day, Raleigh trash crews staged a walk-out Thursday over work schedules and overtime pay.

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    City Councilwoman: Workers' Concerns Being Taken Seriously

    The latest protest was shorter than Wednesday's work stoppage, but crews planned to meet Thursday night with a public-service workers union to discuss their options.

    The sanitation workers said they are fed up over how they are treated by management. They said they are forced to work overtime hours to get the job done, then are often given compensatory time off that they are not allowed to take.

    The workers also said they are being overworked and are threatened with suspensions if they do not work late.

    "We just need help down here. They are not treating us as well as they should treat us," sanitation worker Daron Green said.

    Last year, the city Solid Waste Services Department paid out $200,000 in overtime. Supervisors determine whether workers will receive overtime pay or comp time, and a worker can bank up to 70 hours of comp time.

    Over the past two days, City Manager Russell Allen has met with about 10 workers, trying to understand their concerns. He said some problems could be addresssed immediately, but others would take time and he begged the workers for time.

    "What I'm promising you is you have my attention and I will get this resolved. You'll have my ear until you tell me things are better," Allen told workers Thursday, encouraging them to return to their collection routes.

    Allen said he only learned of the complaints Wednesday, when about 50 workers refused to drive their routes and delayed trash collections for four hours.

    "If we are short in some areas, we are going to figure out what those areas are and get them the resources they need," he said.

    He told drivers they would get time-and-a-half pay if they worked beyond their regular hours Thursday and that he would meet with them again Friday morning. But that failed to satisfy some employees.

    "You haven't told us anything," said Lonnie Lucas, a sanitation worker for 10 years. "You said you're working on things for the short-term and for the long-term. Can you name any of those things?"

    Crews eventually hit the road with a push from a co-worker.

    "I know you all are frustrated. I've been frustrated for a along time. So the best thing we can do now is head back to work. If things don't change, we'll hold him accountable," the worker said.

    The two walkouts have put trash collection across the city hours behind schedule, but officials said late Thursday that they expect collections to be back to normal by Saturday.

    Workers said their problems escalated in July when the city cut jobs from its recycling crew after adding seven items, including cardboard, to the list of what can be recycled. Also, crews are picking up trash and recyclables from 5,000 more homes this year than in 2005.

    On average, someone on the back of a garbage truck makes about $27,000 a year. Those who drive recycling or automated garbage trucks make between $25,000 and $44,000 a year.

    Workers said they are just after additional pay and time they've earned.

    "It's going to take time. We'll see. We are going to do our job and see how things turn out," sanitation worker Delta Taylor said.

    Allen declined to say whether he is considering a management change in the Solid Waste Services Department, but he said he plans to address his expectations with department leaders.

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    Matthew Burns

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