Montgomery County will bring in an outside firm to audit the three companies that handle the county’s trash and recycling to make sure they’re paying their workers a minimum amount required by the county, but it could take several months to find out the result.
The investigation stems from a wage dispute that turned into an employee strike by workers at Potomac Disposal more than a week ago. It will include an analysis of the payroll records for Potomac Disposal and the other trash companies to make sure employees are being paid a living wage required by the county of at least $13.95 an hour.
The county has sent a letter to the Gaithersburg-based Potomac Disposal and will bring in an independent contractor to do the audit, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield wrote in an email Tuesday.
The audit should take several months, he said.
The audit is merely addressing the past, said Nicole Duarte, a spokeswoman for the Mid-Atlantic region of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which is negotiating with Potomac Disposal on higher wages and health benefits for workers.
“We are focused on obtaining a fair contract to deal with the future,” Duarte said. “That’s what we think the main focus should be. We hope all Montgomery County officials will support the workers in seeking affordable health insurance and a fair wage increase.”
Progressive Maryland was among groups that support the Potomac Disposal workers. “Their work is hard, dirty, dangerous and an absolutely essential service to county residents,” Executive Director Kate Planco Waybright said in a statement.
Potomac has a $5 million annual contract with the county and picks up trash and recycling for 40,000 homes in parts of Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville and Potomac.
The county also has contracts with Unity Disposal and Recycling of Laurel and Ecology Services of Columbia.
Officials for the three companies could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
About 50 employees of Potomac Disposal went on strike on Sept. 9, claiming the company had threatened to check workers’ immigration status as an intimidation technique during recent labor negotiations. The two sides had been negotiating over higher wages, health care benefits and sick days.
Workers returned to work on the morning of Sept. 12.
The workers had tried to return to work on Sept. 11, but found themselves locked out when they arrived at 6 a.m..
At 6:45 a.m., a picketing worker was clipped by a truck leaving a site in Potomac. He was treated for minor injuries at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda and released.
The truck’s driver was cited for failure to control his speed to avoid a collision by Montgomery County police, who said they don’t believe the driver was trying to hit anyone.
Potomac workers had been negotiating with the company on Sept. 5, and came to work the next day to find I-9 forms — used by the government to certify citizenship — attached to their time cards, workers said.
Staff Writer Kevin James Shay contributed to this story