Workers Struggle with Cost of Living in Durham

Durham neighborhoods were piling up with garbage during a recent two-week long waste collector strike.

The median salary for a trash collector in Durham is $45,000, according to city data. Some of the workers believe they cannot afford to live in Durham.

“As essential workers, we are overworked and underpaid,” City worker Chris Benjamin said while speaking on behalf of the Solid Waste collectors at a City Council meeting on September 5. ”[We need] cost of living increase, annual raise, we want to talk about hazard pay, better equipment, and we should start paying our drivers at least $35 an hour.” 

Benjamin also requested a $5,000 bonus to be paid immediately to workers.

In August 2023, houses in Durham were sold for a median of $425,000. In 2015, the average house in Durham was worth $180,000, according to Zillow.

“We are not going anywhere, we are here to stand and to let our presence be known,” Benjamin said.

On September 9, Durham started to hire contractors to pick up the trash around the city. Most workers had already returned to work by September 8.

Members of Durham’s City Council thanked the workers for their advocacy and for returning to work. The city is currently working on passing a new budget.

“We thank you for keeping our city safe and clean and healthy. And you do deserve [increased pay and benefits],” said council member Mark-Anthony Middleton.

The garbage collectors were on strike because of the Right to Work law, which limits the power of labor unions.

Trash collectors are currently making $28 an hour. Living wage for workers in Durham is over $18 an hour, but that number increases with dependents.

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