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Montgomery Co. Trash Workers Strike Hinges On Immigration Forms

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Thousands of homes in Maryland's Montgomery County were facing the prospect of trash piling up, as workers at a trash disposal company went on strike for a second day.

The 50 workers, part of Laborer's International Local 657, are in the middle of contract negotiations seeking better health care benefits and higher wages. The strike was triggered last week, when many of the workers found an I-9 employee eligibility verification form attached to their time card.

"The workers just figure it's just a way of singling them out and being harassed, and it's a blatant form of discrimination," says Ernest Ohito, union organizer with Local 657.

The form asks employees to verify their immigration status. Most, if not all of the 50 striking workers with Potomac Disposal are Latino. Ohito says that although he's not aware of the immigration status of any of the workers involved, the timing of the verification is designed to intimidate them.

"It's something that you're required to give to your employees before they begin to work for you, not two, three, four, or in some cases five to eight years into their employment," he says.

Lee Levine is the owner of Potomac Disposal. He says some employees did receive 1-9 forms some years ago.

"But with the rate of turnover, we've fallen behind on the renewal of our I-9 program," Levine says. "As a result, we have to have all of our I-9s in place by the end of this month. It has nothing to do with union negotiation, that will change nothing."

Today is the second day of a strike by 57 newly unionized workers at Potomac Disposal. The workers say that the Gaithersburg-based trash disposal company retaliated with immigration enforcement threats after workers pressed the company for health benefits.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the union informed Potomac disposal that workers planned an unconditional return to work later this week.

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