Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:45 AM
Published on: Thursday, October 17, 2013
By Donna Broadway
LAUREL - Hundreds of thousands of county residents may have a smelly situation on their hands as trash removal is on hold indefinitely. Workers on strike at Unity Disposal, headquartered in Laurel, and at Potomac Disposal, headquartered in Gaithersburg, have halted trash pickup in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Wheaton, Aspen Hill, Silver Spring and Potomac. Unity Disposal is responsible for trash removal in 46,000 county homes and Potomac Disposal is responsible for trash removal for at least 30,000 county homes. The two strikes are unrelated.
In September, 50 out of 57 workers from Potomac Disposal were on strike for two days after union negotiations with the company fell through and workers say they were intimidated with I-9 forms. The workers decided to strike after failing to receive an offer that included affordable health care.
“The company came back with its final offer, which was the same as its first offer and we’re tired of negotiating with people who don’t want to negotiate. They didn’t bring forth an agreement with affordable health care and that’s one of the main reasons we negotiated because we wanted affordable health care. They also singled out all the people who striked before and didn’t give them the proper bonuses that were supposed to be given to them. They did that in retaliation to the last strike,” said Jacob Alvia, a driver at Potomac Disposal.
The union also says the trash removal companies have violated employees’ rights with violations with living wages.
“One of the problems was that the company didn’t start tracking the helper hours until August, so the county investigator had to use estimation. One of the things we’ve heard is that every day the route is different and there is no uniform clock in, clock out time, so we’re anticipating that the actual violations were much more frequent than anyone is able to prove because of the lack of paperwork,” said Nicole Durante, spokeswoman for the mid-Atlantic region of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (MALIUNA).
Unity Disposal and Recycling is a waste hauling company that holds contracts with Montgomery and Howard counties and is not affiliated with Potomac Disposal.
An estimated 70 workers or 80 percent of workers from Unity Disposal and Recycling are on strike after they say an employee, Vladimir Padilla, 28, was fired after asking for a contract and union representation at a meeting.
The workers at Unity Disposal were in the preliminary stages of organizing but were not officially organized under MALIUNA. The workers signed union cards and were preparing to hold an election for union representatives before the firing occurred.
“The workers had a supervisor who treated the workers poorly and used humiliating language and they wanted protection, they wanted to improve their work conditions,” Durante said.
Representatives from MALIUNA say the meeting held on Oct. 11 that led to the employee’s firing was a union busting meeting held by Union Disposal to discourage the workers from organizing. At the meeting, Padilla told company representatives that he wanted a contract and union representation, according to Durante. Padilla was fired the following Monday. Durant said the official reason given for Padilla’s termination was problems with his immigration documents.
“We did not organize the strike. The workers came in this morning and decided to strike on their own. So we’re following the situation as it goes along and we are following the company to get a positive response from the company to resolve this quickly, we don’t know,” Durante said.
Durante says residents and organizations in the county have offered support to the striking workers. She says the workers have also spoken to members of the county council who have offered their support.
“We’re not trash, so don’t treat us like trash. We pick up trash, we’re not trash,” Alvia said.
As of press time, the workers have not heard from the company. Representatives from Unity Disposal were unavailable for comment.