Living Wage for Garbage Workers in Dallas

P1010025Dallas Having represented subcontracted laborers on the back of City of Dallas for the last two years, United Labor Unions Local 100 has been at wits ends trying to prevent a slashing of the wages back down to the federal minimum in the City’s newly bid contract.  We have had our champions on the Council, but not enough votes to either win a “living wage” provision yet or to prevent such a gross injustice.  Saturday found us going “old school” with new friends and allies as we gird ourselves for what seems a longer fight against stark injustice.

In searching for allies and support for our workers, Kenneth Stretcher, Local 100’s Dallas office director, had found common cause with Peter Johnson, the head of the Dallas Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  SCLC was a legacy from its days in the forefront during Rev. Martin Luther King’s time, but was spry and enthusiastic about joining with the union on this issue partially as a bridge to the tragic, but momentous, last days of Dr. King in Memphis standing with sanitation workers on strike there.

Many false starts finally led to a true bearing, as we convened at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church on MLK Boulevard in South Dallas, the site of so much of the civil rights history of Dallas.  I could all most hear the echoes of long, tired strategy sessions coming through the basement walls as we prepared for the meeting.  When Johnson began the program the hands of history lay heavy with the introductions of some of the participants.  Ernie McMillan, was a legendary link to that great tradition.  A former city council woman was a major voice in the meeting.  One old warrior whose voice was still strong was introduced as tied through their mutual friendship with Stokely Carmichael.  East Texas Jobs with Justice was on hand to help along with other unions like CWA’s Texas State Employees Union.

Our garbage workers were moving as they told their stories of injuries and illnesses from the trucks along with the pride of their professions and the mystery that their work was so little valued.  James Fortenberry, who had led Local 100’s drives as a leader both in New Orleans and in Dallas where he had relocated as a hopper after Katrina, was articulate in his confusion why New Orleans could do so much better for sanitation workers than Dallas, even though Dallas charged almost 40% more for the service.

We spoke and planned for a long term struggle, and then marched in the heat the few blocks to the King statue in front of the City of Dallas center named after King.  To enjoy the video, here’s a great link from the Dallas Morning News: http://dallasnews.com/video

This fight wouldn’t get any easier, but it is critical to win.

The stark indifference to the workers’ plight was worn like a badge by the director of the Dallas sanitation department in a piece that ran the morning of our meeting and march.  Don’t believe me, her callousness equation of thirty cents on the bill versus a living wage for the workers comes from her own voice in the article that ran in Saturday’s Dallas Morning News by Rudolph Bush.  (I’ll ignore the fact that both her math and priorities are wrong!)

    “Sanitation Director Mary Nix also noted that, while city workers have seen their pay cut recently, the federal minimum wage has increased since the passage of the previous sanitation contract.
    City workers typically drive the city’s sanitation trucks. But the roughly 190 laborers who work on the back of the trucks and at the landfill are contracted through a private firm.
    The terms of the deal approved by the council on June 23 require the contracting firm, All Temps1 Personnel, to pay time-and-a-half for overtime and to provide basic safety equipment.
    Under the deal, the city will pay All Temps1 $9.72 for every hour a laborer works. The total cost of the contract to the city is about $11.3 million.
    Council member Angela Hunt, who supported offering the workers a higher wage, said there simply wasn’t enough support on the council to defeat the proposed contract.
    “This is very difficult work, and without their contribution our city would evolve quickly into unsanitary conditions,” she said.
    She added that paying the workers a living wage would cycle more money through the local economy by their increased spending.
    “It’s extremely difficult in these budget times to convince some council members that it’s in everyone’s best interest to provide a living wage to some of our most critical city workers,” she said.
    According to figures provided by the Sanitation Department, increasing the workers’ hourly wage to $8.88 would have required a 30-cent increase to the monthly sanitation fee of $20.98.”
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