Sanitation workers force mayor to meet demands

Published Oct 7, 2006 12:38 AM

Raleigh sanitation workers have taken a step forward and forced Mayor Charles Meeker to meet with the union to discuss their demands.

The elected workers’ committee and union representatives met with the mayor on Sept. 26 demanding an end to forced overtime, time-and-a-half pay for all overtime, immediate hiring of all temporary city workers as permanent workers, an end to bosses’ harassment, and the right to organize.

The city has hired at least 10 temporary workers to full-time positions, and committed to hire more. The city has also been forced to pay the workers regular overtime pay.

Workers will meet with the mayor again Oct. 3 to further press their demands.

The North Carolina Public Service Workers’ Union, United Electrical Local 150, represents a large majority of sanitation workers, as well as other city workers in Raleigh and throughout the state along with a variety of other public-sector workers. North Carolina is the only state with a law preventing any public workers from having a contract—a relic of the racist Jim Crow era and a clear violation of the workers’ human rights.

The courageous work stoppage of the sanitation workers that took place for several hours on Sept. 13 and their struggle for justice that continues to gain momentum are a first step toward pushing back a century of anti-worker laws and racist repression in the U.S. South.

The spirit of these workers, taking a stand for dignity to improve their conditions, is resonating with workers across the South and the entire United States. When the most oppressed sector of the work force, low-paid Black sanitation workers, take such a stand it encourages the working class as a whole.

Workers across North Carolina and other city workers are being drawn further into this struggle. They are building power to overturn the state’s racist anti-worker laws. Solidarity statements are also coming in from fighting unions across the country.

Building community solidarity

Inspired by the sanitation workers’ struggle, community groups and leaders are coming together. Anti-war and anti-racist activists have covered the city with signs and leaflets. Supporters and activists with Raleigh FIST—the youth group Fight Imperialism Stand Together—travel the city every day in a sound truck, holding street meetings, distributing yard signs, and building visible solidarity with the workers.

Union supporters from the International Action Center in New York and Atlanta have traveled to Raleigh to help in the fight. Activists in at least four other cities have helped organize through computer help. The North Carolina conference of the NAACP has been very vocal in its support of the sanitation workers; its president, Rev. Dr. William Barber, serves as UE-150’s most vocal champion in the fight for full collective-bargaining rights.

Ministers at Black churches from across the state have motivated their congregations and are organizing mass support for these workers. Residents across the city have expressed continuous solidarity, putting signs on their trashcans or in their yards, honking and waving at the trucks, offering cookies and coffee to the workers on their routes.

Although the workers have now won significant gains, and continue to meet and confer with the mayor and other city officials, they have their eyes constantly on a larger struggle—that is to win full union recognition, collective-bargaining rights, and to help organize all unorganized workers in the U.S. South.

The writer is an organizer with Raleigh FIST. Contact FIST@workers.org for more information.