Photo: Activists stand in support of the striking city workers (Source: @andrearovenski on twitter)
By Sarah Ahmed
On Tuesday, city workers for Elizabeth City went on strike after the City Council rejected a budget which would have provided a 4 percent pay raise for city employees. After workers refused to carry out important services such as garbage collection over the course of two days, the city council passed a revised budget which included the pay increase.
City employees staged a protest across from city hall to demand that City Council approve the pay raise on Tuesday. Around noon, sanitation workers used a dozen garbage trucks to block two major streets in front of City Hall.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, sanitation workers refused to collect trash in the city. Many city residents stopped by the strike to drop off food and water to support striking workers, with one local business providing free boxed lunches. Protesters for Andrew Brown Jr. also joined the city workers in solidarity. Andrew Brown Jr. was a 42-year-old unarmed Black man who was killed by Elizabeth City Police in April and whose murder has generated nightly protests ever since.
City Manager Montré Freeman sent an email to city directors and department heads after Tuesday’s protest, threatening to terminate employees that did not take time off before going on strike. City workers continued their protest on Wednesday, lining up in front of City Hall before the councilors would take a vote on a revised budget.
The current starting wage for an Elizabeth City sanitation worker is $11.70 an hour. In contrast, City Manager Freeman makes a salary of $140,000 a year. Troy Searcy, a Public Works employee, spoke during the City Council meeting on Monday and said, “I was unable to afford–and still unable to afford–the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment. We need to make something happen together so that I don’t have to live out of the back of a van.”
The city council’s original proposed budget was rejected in a 4-2 vote, sparking the workers’ protest. The budget would have increased local taxes by 10 percent, which was cited as a reason by politicians for voting down the plan.
On Wednesday, City Council held a special meeting to take a vote on a $70 million dollar budget, which would include an 8.5% tax increase. The budget, which passed in this form, included the 4% raise to city workers. The organized pressure and strong actions of the city workers can be credited for the government’s about-face on the pay raise.
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