This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17, 2013.
As many as 70 workers at one of Montgomery County’s waste disposal contractors have been fired after going on strike, and plan to file complaints with the county and the National Labor Relations Board, according to a labor union assisting the workers.
Former workers at Unity Disposal and Recycling in Laurel will file a complaint with the labor board seeking their reinstatement. They were fired when they went on strike on Oct. 15 in support of another worker who was fired after advocating for union representation, said Nicole Duarte, spokeswoman for the mid-Atlantic region of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
The Laborers’ International Union of North America does not represent the Unity workers, but is helping them move toward representation.
Vladimir Padilla, 28, of Laurel was fired on Oct. 14, days after he told Unity Disposal that the workers wanted a contract and union representation, Duarte said.
When Padilla’s colleagues learned of his termination, 70 workers — about 80 percent of the company’s total work force — went on strike and contacted the union, she said.
She said the workers received letters from the company on Oct. 16 telling them they had been fired.
The union had been able to confirm officially 47 of the firings by Thursday afternoon, she said.
London Bryson, senior director of human resources for Unity, declined to confirm the firings or to comment on the union’s allegations Thursday afternoon.
Duarte said the union also was concerned that the company was improperly subcontracting with other companies and paying the workers the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour rather than Montgomery’s living wage of $13.95 an hour that’s required for companies doing business with the county.
County Executive Isiah Leggett stepped in on Oct. 16 to help resolve a separate dispute involving Unity and Potomac Disposal of Gaithersburg, whose workers went on strike in September over wages and immigration threats during negotiations.
Leggett (D) met with both Potomac Disposal and Unity.
“We had talked last week with the union and our intention was to have a meeting with the union and the companies. The companies wanted to meet separately with us without the unions,” county executive spokesman Patrick Lacefield said Thursday.
He did not provide details on the meeting.
In Montgomery County, the Unity strike delayed trash collection for about 13,600 homes Tuesday.
Unity Disposal serves 68,000 customers in Montgomery County and collects waste from about 13,600 customers each day, said Robin Ennis, chief of collections for the Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services in the Department of Environmental Protection.
While the strike delayed pickup, Ennis said, the company had deployed trucks and was working to complete the collection.
Unity Disposal is one of the county’s three waste contractors and is the second to have workers strike recently, raising immigration concerns in the dispute and interrupting or delaying trash service for some customers.
Workers at Potomac Disposal went on a three-day strike in September after workers claimed the company tried to intimidate them during labor negotiations by threatening checks of employees’ immigration statuses.
Montgomery County is in the process of conducting a pay audit of all three companies that collect trash in the county, Lacefield said.
In a statement issued by Potomac Disposal on Oct. 16, the company said the effort to comply with a federal mandate that all employees provide documentation verifying their legal authorization to be employed in the U.S. was timed on a recent audit of its files and had nothing to do with the union’s salary negotiations.
The company also claims in the statement that in an internal review of wages, Potomac Disposal was in most instances complying with the Montgomery County Living Wage Act. It has since implemented a formal policy to better track hours, according to the company’s statement.
Starting Monday, Potomac Disposal is changing its daily wage rate structure to eliminate any potential for helpers’ daily rates to fall below the Living Wage Act requirements, according to the company statement.
The county is conducting similar studies of Unity Disposal and its other contractor, Ecology Inc., to see if there is cause to audit those contractors as well, he said.
Kate S. Alexander and Jamie Anfenson-Comeau contributed to this story.