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Lawrence sanitation workers ratify first contract, hope to inspire other city workers

The city’s sanitation workers unanimously approved their first Teamster contract Wednesday, and it will go to the Lawrence City Commission next week.

If approved, the group will see “a modernized wage scale and substantial benefits as well as strong seniority language, grievance procedure, consistent work rules and improved working conditions” under the three-year contract, according to a Teamsters press release.

The increased cost to the city for 2022 will be $649,000, which is included in the proposed budget, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

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The union includes full-time solid waste loaders, operators and maintenance technicians, who voted 65-1 on Aug. 27, 2020 to join the union. And they’re “thrilled” to work under the contract, Jody Norcross, a sanitation driver for the city and chief steward at Local 696, said in the press release. 

“This agreement contains countless improvements that sanitation workers in Lawrence have gone too long without. We are proud of what we have accomplished,” Norcross said. “… We hope this win will encourage other workers for the City of Lawrence to join us and build on our momentum to continue bringing real change to this city.”

Wages for solid waste workers will start at $18.34 per hour in 2022, if the agreement is approved; the highest step in the pay grade sets wages at $29.82. The contract includes a 2.5% adjustment for 2023 and 2024, so employees will start at $19.27 in 2024.

Shaun Elston, a sanitation driver and leading member of the bargaining committee, said in the release that he and his coworkers were united from the start in the bargaining process and what they wanted to achieve with the contract. He said the agreement sets a solid foundation for future gains at the bargaining table.

“When workers thrive, the entire community benefits,” Elston said. 

The contract is on the city commission’s consent agenda, meaning unless a commissioner or member of the public asks to pull it for separate discussion, it will be approved along with several other items in one vote. The meeting will start at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. Register to attend via Zoom at this link, or watch the livestream at this link or on the city’s YouTube channel.

“We are proud of this historic victory and congratulate this determined group for leading the way,” Matt Hall, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 696, said in the release. “Local 696 will continue to fight for all workers at the City of Lawrence to win a union voice.”

The city’s website shows it’s currently hiring for solid waste loaders.

Note: This article has been updated to correct a name that was misspelled in the press release.

Update — Tuesday, July 20: The Lawrence City Commission approved this contract unanimously. It also approved new contracts with the Lawrence Police Officers Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1596.

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