Maryland lawmakers try to intervene in Montgomery trash contractor strike

October 23, 2013

Two Maryland state legislators visited Unity Disposal and Recycling Wednesday, in an effort to prod the Montgomery County trash hauling contractor and about 50 striking workers to end their week-old dispute.

After visiting picketers in front of Unity’s Laurel offices, State Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince Georges) and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) called on company executives.

When they expressed concern to chief operating officer Jerald Boyd about strikers who had been fired last Wednesday, Boyd said it had all been a misunderstanding and that the workers were free to come back.

“They would be welcomed back,” Boyd said.

Last Wednesday Unity sent Spanish-language flyers to the picket line saying that the workers’ absence constituted insubordination that violated company policy. It was considered a resignation, one that was accepted immediately. The workers assumed, then, that they’d been fired.

Boyd’s meeting with Ramirez and Gutierrez ended abruptly after about five minutes when Unity managers decided they couldn’t talk without their lawyer present. Just a few minutes after the two lawmakers went back outside, company officials produced another flyer saying the workers were “not terminated and you are unconditionally welcome to return to work, should you choose to do so.”

But workers quickly rejected the offer, saying that the flyer did not address any of their main concerns, chiefly that the company recognize the Laborers International Union as their bargaining agent to negotiate for affordable health insurance and higher wages. Union officials said Unity may have realized that the firing of the strikers was illegal and that the firm was attempting to walk it back.

The strike at a second trash contractor, Potomac Disposal, also continued Wednesday. Both companies are using replacement workers and management to fill in. County officials said that so far there has been only minimal disruption in trash and recycling pickup.

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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