At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, more than two dozen refuse workers with the Department of Public Works were in attendance to demand higher pay. They said that in recent negotiations with the city, they were offered a $2 raise but that amount does not bring them up to a livable wage.
“I can’t even afford my light bill,” says Hector Quintana, who has worked for the department for 18 years. He says the conditions of the job need to improve, as refuse workers often encounter needles and even human feces.
He recalls being covered from head to toe in human waste and being advised by his supervisors to “go in the shower, grab somebody else’s clothes, and go out again.”
Refuse worker Anthony Holmes organized the protest at City Hall. He has also accused the Public Works Department of discriminating against Black employees by denying them raises and promotions. On Tuesday, he said his goal was to make the department better for everyone employed there.
While he is speaking up for Black employees, he tries to encourage everyone in the department to have a representative who will speak for them. Holmes believes diverse representation is needed to improve the department.
Holmes says the protest at City Council was the workers’ last attempt to have employee concerns taken seriously. If they are not, refuse and recycling workers are prepared to strike.
While some of the statements from refuse workers at Tuesday’s City Council meeting were emotionally charged, Councilmember Al Austin thanked them for staying until the end of the meeting to speak during public comment. He also hoped an amicable resolution could be reached saying, “I want to encourage good-faith bargaining on both sides of the table. And the process works.”
Union representatives for the refuse workers say they are still in negotiations while Mayor Rex Richardson says the council will not discuss those negotiations publicly.