Sanitation, fire and police among Durham city workers rallying for higher wages

Tuesday, March 19, 2024
Sanitation workers fight for higher wages, level of respect
One sanitation worker said his job is just as important to the safety and the health of Durham as other city personnel.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham city workers demand higher wages as city council members look ahead to the budget for fiscal year 2024-25.

On Monday, sanitation workers, firefighters and faith leaders rallied ahead of the city council meeting. George Bacote, a sanitation worker, told ABC11 that this budget is critical.

"A lot of my coworkers are leaving the job to start their own companies," said Bacote "They feel like they'd be better off. I've thought about it many, times many times. It's always playing in my head. I'm tired of the stress and headache."

Bacote was referencing the stress of making ends meet and having to work two jobs to do it. He and other city workers want what they're calling a family-supporting wage of at least $25 an hour. Those demands come as sanitation workers walked off the job for days in September of last year.

They demanded higher wages as trash piled on up in communities across the Bull City. According to Bacote, if the city doesn't increase wages, that could happen again.

"Anything is possible. Back in September, we put the city on notice. That was six months ago. They should have come up with a solution by now," he said.

On Monday, sanitation workers, firefighters and faith leaders plan to rally ahead of the city council meeting.

The Professional Firefighters of Durham Local 668 Union released a document.

ABC11 asked Mayor Pro-Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton whether $25 an hour is feasible for the city.

"Let me just say absolutely I do support it. As a fiduciary of the city and policymaker, I don't want to do something that's going to break the bank," said Middleton. "I fully anticipate that we will be passing a significant pay increase for city workers come June. I also anticipate we will be passing a tax increase as well along with that."

Sanitation workers such as Bacote said they are deserving of higher wages given the jobs they do.

"I'm what you call a workhorse, a worker on the back of the truck that's really in the trenches," said Montrell Perry, a collector. "Slinging cans left to right ... boots glued to the ground until the soles come off."

Faith leaders have signed on to support their fight.

"We are looking at departments that have the highest concentration of Black and brown workers. They're also the lowest-paid people in the city and so that's unfair. The name for that unfairness is racial injustice," said Kevin Georgas, co-pastor of Jubilee Baptist Church.

Regina Mays, a concerned East Durham resident, said she wants all of the city workers to be paid more.

"Even when first responders go home, we still have to live there, there are a lot of hurting people in our community," Mays said. "There are a lot of closed doors tonight, that's our survivor care right now because we don't have a safe place to go to. Now it's time to match the story about saying you care enough about it."

Bacote said sanitation workers are just as important to the safety and the health of Durham.

"We want to be reclassified as such," Bacote said. "Day in and day out, in the dead cold in the rain, in the scorching heat, picking up the city's trash, it's hazardous to one's health. what happened to the city's core values?"

Law enforcement also made their case Monday night for higher pay.

"The first person they are going to see, the first person to respond to that emergency and tragedy of their life is going to be a uniformed police officer," said Ryan Harris.

Harris has been a police officer for 15 years and works in recruitment.

"The police officer is going to respond and they're going to be there for you and when they get there, you want the best, the best officer this city can provide," Harris said. "I'm currently offering for that position $43,000 a year; that's the best we have to offer.

"What is it worth to you?" Harris asked. "What is it worth to you to know a police officer is going to respond?"