DeKalb County sanitation workers will get union

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Oct. 8 to amend an ordinance to allow for sanitation workers to organize a union. Photos by Daniel Beauregard

Cheers arose from DeKalb County sanitation workers Oct. 8 as commissioners removed the final hurdle to allow them to begin forming a union.

The board of commissioners voted unanimously to amend Chapter 20 of the DeKalb County Code to allow sanitation workers to organize in much the same way as DeKalb County police and firefighter have. The agenda item was presented by Commissioner Stan Watson several months ago.

Ben Speight, organizing director for the Teamsters Local 728, said that sanitation workers in DeKalb County have been asking to be recognized as a union for 40 years or more.

“This will begin to address the concerns and issues that the drivers and collections workers have raised since we began organizing them about a year ago,” Speight said.

Recently, Forbes listed “refuse and recyclable material collectors” as the sixth deadliest job in the United States, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Speight said sanitation workers face a lot of dangers on the job, which consists of more than just picking up trash.

Interim CEO Lee May said he understood the concerns of the sanitation workers and agreed they should have an opportunity to voice their concerns. However, May wouldn’t say whether he was for or against, a union.

“The number one duty that I have is to make sure that all of our employees have a voice—that they have an open door not just to the administration but also to me,” May said.

After the large group of sanitation workers exited the meeting, they lined up outside and began a group chant.


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