Employees Crowded City Council Meeting to Testify on Their Desire for Voice on the Job
Laurel, Md. – A strong majority of the city of Laurel’s Department of Public Works’ employees showed up at the February 27 city council meeting to ask the Council to support their unionization efforts. Most of the workforce have signed union authorization cards with UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO but their unionization efforts are stymied by the fact that the city does not have collective bargaining codified into city law for its employees, except for its police force. City police have had union representation since 2011.
DPW employees testified at the hearing, calling on the Council to introduce legislation granting them collective bargaining rights.
Lloyd Holloway a Laborer II with the DPW told the Council, “When I found out there was no union here, it took me by surprise. We put our lives on the line every day….we should have a union. We need a union.”
Like Holloway, other employees pointed out that their jobs are dangerous.
“I have worked for the city for eight years in recycling,” said Kyle Lewis. “A super dangerous job. We have a really tough job, and we would like to get heard. We are in the streets every day.”
Others pointed out how the DPW employees are essential to making the city run.
Ruth Walls, a Laurel citizen, told the Council:
“My husband and I have lived here for the past 40 years. We have been blessed to have incredible service from the department of public works…when a person is hired by DPW, there are many responsibilities – duties that an employee has may include pothole repair, snow and ice removal, and many other duties. As a nurse I’m grateful that the DPR provides an essential service. It’s easy for the citizens of Laurel to take the department for granted…. The DPW employees lift heavy items which can take an incredible toll on their bodies…I applaud and uplift the department and their employees. God bless you and thank you.”
Derrall Bridges (Driver) pointed out that the city is willing to invest in tools and equipment but leaves the workforce behind.
“We go out here and buy a quarter of a million-dollar truck, and other employees have new vehicles, but there’s no pay raise for us. People applying are laughing and passing up the offer because there’s no money.”
Jobs are not competitive because wages have not kept up, noted many of the employees testifying. They also pointed out that they never know if a benefit will be taken away from them because the City has the final say, with no input from the workforce.
“In Fiscal year 2022, inflation was 8.5%, however, the City only provided a 2.5% cost of living adjustment. We all took a big pay cut,” testified Kate Wright, a DPW administrative assistant. “Inadequate pay for our CDL drivers has reached a critical state. Even after counting the benefits that government jobs are known for: we. are. not. competitive. Since 2010, the City has added over 1000 new homes, 5000 new residents, and 6 miles of road. What hasn’t changed? 8 equipment operators… 16 laborers.”
“Workers should be able to collectively bargain, and Laurel is a city that cares about public safety and we care about all of our workers…Laurel DPW are essential workers and should be treated as such,” said City Council Member-at-Large Martin Mitchell, who is introducing legislation for the workforce to collectively bargain.
“DPW employees are essential workers, and work one of the most dangerous jobs,” said UFCW Local 1994 President Gino Renne. “The right to form a union and collectively bargain is a fundamental right. We’re confident that the Council understands this and will do the right thing and pass legislation to allow them to have a voice on the job.”
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Local 1994 represents 8,000 public employees in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and beyond. From its inception, UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO has fought to protect workers’ rights, negotiate fair wages, and protect safety and security of workers.