Saturday, January 22, 2011

North Carolina Struggle of "Sanitation Two" Shows Need for Collective Bargaining

By Scott Williams
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Published Jan 20, 2011 9:16 PM

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2011, over 250 people marched through downtown Chapel Hill, N.C., demanding “Rehire the Sanitation Two.” The Sanitation Two, Clyde Clark and Kerry Bigelow, are two leaders of the Chapel Hill Chapter of United Electrical Workers Local 150, North Carolina’s Public Service Workers Union. Clark and Bigelow worked for the Town of Chapel Hill Public Works Department where they have been leaders and activists in UE 150, filing grievances and speaking out against racist hiring decisions, issues of unsafe working conditions and consistently abusive management.

In late September, the Town of Chapel Hill suspended the Two and spent $22,000 of taxpayer money to investigate a complaint from one resident about issues on their route. The subsequent biased investigation carried out by an anti-worker, anti-union private investigator led to the Town of Chapel Hill firing the two workers on Oct 29 for one minor incident.

The real reason Chapel Hill fired the Sanitation Two was because they organized and fought back against racism, for safe and respectful working conditions and to build UE 150.

Since September hundreds of workers, community members and students have spoken out at Town Council meetings to demand the town immediately rehire the Sanitation Two. Lawsuits and appeals have been filed, but real pressure needs to continue to build with people in the streets.

Reverend Kerry Bigelow, a waste collector and one of the Sanitation Two, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, spoke to hundreds at the Peace and Justice Plaza on MLK Day, stating, “It takes a mass of people to stand up and say we aren’t going to tolerate this. That’s when things are going to change. We need people to get out of their living rooms and join us as they realize that this is not just an issue of two workers, but it’s the same issues which affect all workers, white or Black.”

The unfair firing of the Sanitation Two shows the need for workers’ rights in North Carolina. If there were a union with a collective bargaining contract with the Town of Chapel Hill, this incident would not have happened. North Carolina is one of two states which make it illegal for public workers to have a union contract. This anti-labor Jim Crow law, General Statute 95-98, has been condemned by the U.N. International Labor Organization as a violation of basic human rights.

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