Sanitation Workers Return From Strike, Say Company Locked Them Out

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The trash in front on thousands of homes in Montgomery County may not be collected Tuesday due to a strike. Tony Tull spoke with workers about what they're demanding from Potomac Disposal. (Published Tuesday, Sep 10, 2013)

    Sanitation workers on strike in Montgomery County could be close to striking a deal with their employer, just hours after one of the workers was hit by a trash truck.

    Over 50 employees of Potomac Disposal walked off the job Monday, claiming Latino employees were unfairly singled out after asking for a wage increase and affordable healthcare.

    Nicole Duarte, a spokeswoman with LiUNA! Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition, said the striking workers told their employer that they would be returning to work Wednesday; but when they arrived, they found the front gate locked.

    Duarte said a note on the gate said the "company had no work for employees on strike." The letter advised workers to contact their representative for a back-to-work date.

    The group congregated by an exit gate, and one of the workers was struck by a trash truck leaving the facility at around 6:30 a.m.

    "My observation was that the truck gunned it through the line, and that's when the worker got hit," said Steve Lanning, the Director of Organizing for LiUNA! Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition.

    Police say the driver was found at fault and was cited for failing to control the vehicle. There's no word on the condition of the worker who was struck.

    The union says the strike was prompted by Potomac Disposal's "inappropriate and intimidating immigration enforcement threats." A day after employees made their demands for higher pay and more affordable healthcare, Latino workers arrived at work to find I-9 forms attached to their time cards, along with a demand that those workers re-verify their immigration statuses, a union rep told News4.

    The workers said only Latino employees were targeted.

    But the company denies the union's claims, saying Latino workers were not singled out. "They know they have to have their I-9s updated, and we are giving them time to update that information," said Rick Levine, the owner of Potomac Disposal.

    Levine said late Tuesday that the workers had agreed to return to work. The union responded that the workers had agreed to return in order to preserve their bargaining stance and restart the discussion over the I-9s -- and that did not necessarily mean they would return to the job.

    "The workers are furious over the I-9 forms. They felt it was a direct threat toward them, intimidation toward their efforts just to get a fair contract," said Steve Lanning, the Director of Organizing for LiUNA! Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition.

    Duarte said a company is required by law to take striking workers back once they indicate they will return.

    Wednesday, the union said the company's refusal to take workers back could result in service interruptions in the Bradley Boulevard area of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac and Wheaton and the Georgia Avenue and Dennis Avenue areas of Silver Spring.

    However, company owners said Tuesday they had 14 backup truck to cover trash and recycling collection until the striking workers returned.

    Federal law requires employers to use I-9 forms to verify an employee's identity and right to work in the United States. Employees complete the form at the time of hiring.