Editor's picksEric Fink

Greensboro city workers form a union

Greensboro City Workers Union members (Credit: UE Local 150)

Greensboro City Workers Union members (Credit: UE Local 150)

Greensboro municipal workers and community members will gather at City Hall on Tuesday to show support for the recently-established Greensboro City Workers Union. It’s a fitting way to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., a strong advocate for labor & economic justice who lost his life while in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers.

The union is affiliated with United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150, the  North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, which also represents municipal employees in Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Greenville, & Rocky Mount, and state workers in the UNC system, DHSS, & NCDOT. That successful track record — notable in a state long seen as hostile territory for unions in general, and where a Jim Crow-era state law forbids public employers from entering into collective bargaining agreements with unions representing their employees — is what led Greensboro city workers to affiliate with UE Local 150.

The Greensboro organizing effort owes its success to the rank-and-file culture and grassroots orientation that are the hallmarks of UE Local 150. The Greensboro City Workers Union came together through the efforts of the workers themselves, acting in solidarity to advance their common interests on the job. The union has also mobilized support among community members who have called on city council to recognize the union.

Now that they have organized, the next step for the Greensboro City Workers Union is to meet and confer with city officials about workplace issues. High on the union’s agenda are the issues of pay equity and adequate staffing.

In 2015, the Greensboro city council adopted a plan to raise the minimum pay for most city workers to $12/hour, increasing to $15/hour by 2020. While that was a laudable move, the plan excludes more than 200 “roster” employees, many of whom are still making on $8.33/hour. The inequity is especially notable given that the roster employees are predominantly women of color.

The union also wants to remedy the problem of increasing demands for services. As the city has grown in population and geography, the size of the workforce has not kept pace. The resulting increase in workloads puts a severe strain on workers and equipment. To cite one example, sanitation workers on “one-arm bandit” side-loader trucks are expected to pick-up 1000-1200 trash cans per day. Yet, the trucks are only capable of picking up 700 cans per day. To complete their pickups, sanitation crews must work 10-hour days, without any lunch break. Street repair crews and other workers report similar issues. These conditions endanger the health and safety of workers and the public. Last year, one sanitation driver passed out from exhaustion and the truck ran into a day care facility. It also takes a toll on the equipment, driving up maintenance costs.

By raising these and other issues and pursuing resolutions with city officials, the Greensboro City Workers Union advances not only the interests of its members in fair treatment and decent conditions on the job, but the interests of all Greensboro residents in well-functioning public services.

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