Our Working Lives


Originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 63, printed October 29. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

Staff Report

What do you do when, in the middle of a pandemic, they call you an “essential worker,” but then don’t pay you like one?

For Virginia Beach sanitation workers, the answer was to strike.

On Aug. 19, a Wednesday, more than 100 workers at Virginia Beach Waste Management announced they were on “stand down” until they received the hazard pay they said they were promised by the city.

Alfred McClenny, who has 17 years with Waste Management, told a local CBS affiliate that “city council recently voted to give first responders hazardous pay, and we were designated as first responders over a month ago during the time where they were trying to get employees to come back to work. And now that it is time for them to pay us – we’re not listed among the first responders.”

The workers said that in Norfolk and Hampton, sanitation workers all receive hazard pay.

With sanitation trucks idle, City Manager Patrick Duhaney came out that same afternoon to speak with the striking workers. Among the concerns they raised was systemic racism in the workplace.

“They give us the title of Waste Management,” McClenny said. “That sounds so professional, but at the end of the day people look at you as a ‘common trash man’ and that’s how they pay us. So, I want them to know that trash is what we do, it’s not who we are.”

Within a week of the one-day strike, the city council approved $1,500 in hazard pay for each worker.

Last April 27 in Richmond, half of GRTC’s 100 drivers refused to work, demanding a $6- an-hour hazard pay raise. The workers are represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1220.

On Sept. 23, GRTC bus driver John Thrower, 49, died from complications caused by the COVID-19 virus.

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