Leggett, eager to end trash strikes, tries to play labor peacemaker

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett sat down Wednesday with heads of the two trash hauling contractors dealing with strikes. But it was not the meeting he envisioned.

For reasons that are not completely clear — possibly advice from their attorneys — the trash companies’ execs opted for separate sessions with Leggett, held in the late afternoon and early evening.

Leggett had hoped to bring Potomac Disposal president Lee Levine and Unity Disposal and Recycling CEO Cordell Proctor together with union representatives to sort through what has become one of the messier labor disputes in recent county history. The strikes continued Thursday, with both companies using replacements and supervisors to fill in.

While details are scarce, discussions included an appeal from Leggett to end the discord as quickly as possible before it starts to degrade the level of trash and recycling service.

“What we want is stability,” said Patrick Lacefield, Leggett’s spokesman. “We also support the right of workers to organize.”

Drivers and helpers at the Laurel-based Unity are attempting to unionize. Potomac employees, who formed a union last year, are trying to negotiate their first contract.

Neither Levine nor Proctor returned calls for comment Thursday.

As a candidate for reelection, Leggett has every incentive to see these strikes go away. He acknowledged earlier this week that he is feeling heat from constituents who assume — incorrectly — that the workers alleging mistreatment and underpayment are employed by the county.

“The fundamental problem is that regular citizens don’t understand the distinction between county employees and contract employees,” said Dan Lucas, political director for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition of the Laborers International Union of North America, who has also met with Leggett to discuss the situation. “I think it’s fair to say a number of people effected by this strike think that he’s responsible for it.”

Besides, Lucas added, no elected official is eager to have strikes on their watch, whether they’re responsible or not. “Who wants two garbage strikes in their county?” he asked.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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