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Trash Collectors Strike in Gaithersburg, Protest 'Immigration Enforcement Threat'

Workers for Potomac Disposal are demanding a living wage and benefits. Thousands of homes in Montgomery County haven't had their scheduled trash pick-up.

Potomac Disposal workers strike in protest against an immigration enforcement threat on Sept. 9, 2013. Photo courtesy of the Laborers' International Union of North America, Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition.
Potomac Disposal workers strike in protest against an immigration enforcement threat on Sept. 9, 2013. Photo courtesy of the Laborers' International Union of North America, Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition.

By Laura L. Thornton and Tiffany Arnold

Trash pickup for roughly 12,000 Montgomery County homes was disrupted Monday when nearly 50 workers went on strike to protest what they called an “immigration enforcement threat.”

The strike disrupted trash and recycling pick-up for homes in Silver Spring, Wheaton, Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Rockville, Nicole Duarte, communications director for the Laborers' International Union of North America, Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition, told Patch.

Duarte said 47 of the 57 workers for the Gaithersburg-based trash collection firm were on strike Monday. 

The strike is expected to continue Tuesday, Duarte, said, affecting about 18,000 homes in the River Road area of Bethesda and Potomac.

The workers have been negotiating for health insurance and a fair living wage. Currently, Potomac Disposal does not offer trash collection workers a health insurance plan. Trash collection truck drivers make between $120 and $130 a day (before taxes), while those who load trash into the trucks make between $60 and $70 a day, Duarte said.

Trash collection takes a heavy physical toll on workers’ bodies. Last Friday—the day after workers signed a letter asking for health care, Potomac Disposal management attached new I-9 (employment eligibility verification) forms to employees’ time cards, asking employees to verify their immigration status, Duarte said.

“The company should have done that when they were hired. The documents should be on file, so the question is, ‘Why now?’ The timing seems to be designed to threaten the workers,” Duarte said.

Potomac Disposal declined to comment on the issue to Patch.

"The striking workers demand that Potomac Disposal managers rescind their immigration enforcement threat and return to the negotiating table in good faith," according to a union news release.

Duarte said the workers wanted to go back to work, but the immigration enforcement threat made the workers feel “horrible.”

“[They’re] waiting for a response … [and are] committed to standing up for themselves in the meantime,” Duarte said.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services said the strike would have little impact on service delivery Monday.  According to the county, Potomac is the one of the county’s three trash and recycling collectors affected by the walkout.

“Potomac Disposal has taken steps to help ensure that their County customers due for Mondayservice – in portions of the Potomac and Silver Spring areas – have their trash and recyclables picked up today,” Dan Locke, director of the Division of Solid Waste Services, said in the news release.

Residents affected by the strike were asked to call Montgomery County's Customer Service Center at 3-1-1 (out-of-County: 240-777-0311, TTY: 240-773-3556)  on Tuesday morning and were instructed not remove materials from the curb, in the meantime.

Are you affected by the strike? Tell us in the comments. 

Phyllis Levine September 11, 2013 at 10:05 AM
How can we check to see who is going to be affected by this? Is there some sort of map maybe?
Tiffany Arnold (Editor) September 11, 2013 at 11:55 AM
Phyllis, here's the latest: http://bethesda-chevychase.patch.com/groups/business-news/p/potomac-disposal-begins-discussions-with-workers-after-strike-lockout

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