Striking Sanitation Workers, Potomac Disposal Reach Agreement

Rev. Abhi Janamanchi and church members protest on behalf of striking sanitation workers on Monday, via Nicole Duarte

Striking workers at a Gaithersburg-based trash company have reached a contract agreement and will end a three-week long strike that has affected trash and recycling pick ups in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

Workers at Potomac Disposal voted to accept a three-year agreement reached on Monday afternoon between the company and workers’ representatives. The company agreed to pay raises, one paid holiday and sick and vacation days for the workers but not the health insurance the workers were seeking, according to Nicole Duarte, spokesperson for the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ International Union of North America.

The meeting on Monday came after workers and community members, including a Bethesda Unitarian Universalist minister, protested outside Potomac Disposal’s offices. The company has been able to keep trash pick-ups going with replacement workers and supervisors filling in.

Workers at another one of the three county-contracted sanitation companies, Unity Disposal, have also been on strike.

Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, senior minister at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, said about 15 church members joined him at the protest. He heard about the issue through a colleague at a D.C. church, which has a member involved in the strike.

“I felt we needed to do something to support them as well as to get the public’s attention on what I felt was an issue that needed to be resolved,” Janamanchi said. ”When I found out that the company was not providing them with affordable healthcare, because the plans available to them were quite expensive and in turn would have impacted their take home pay, I felt it was not an equitable arrangement and needed to be addressed.”

The workers will at Potomac Disposal and Unity Disposal will return to work Wednesday.

Laborers’ International Mid-Atlantic manager Dennis Martire said he was disappointed Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett “wasn’t willing to support a plan to offer the workers affordable health insurance.”

“We expected more given the support shown by the Montgomery County Council,” Martire said. Several council members participated in a recent protest. “As a result, we will be pursuing a legislative solution to get these workers coverage they can afford.”

Leggett on Monday told the Washington Post contended taking the county’s contract from Potomac Disposal would set a bad precedent for other county-contracted firms with employees who have gone years without raises.

“There are large numbers of people who come to us repeatedly to ask us to increase their contracts,” Leggett told the Post. “I’m not saying it should not be considered, but it has to be in a broader context.”

Workers at Potomac Disposal will also get dispute resolution coverage and grievance procedures.

Photo by Nicole Duarte via Twitter

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