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Thursday January 20th

Film about Lenoir Dining Hall workers' strike addresses labor rights

Al McSurely (left), a Chapel Hill lawyer who has dedicated 50 years to fighting for civil rights, and Clyde Clark, a former Chapel Hill sanitation worker and one of the Sanitation Two, answered questions after a viewing of the documentary Women Behind the Lines hosted by UNC Student Action with Workers on Monday night in the Frank Porter Graham Student Union.
Buy Photos Al McSurely (left), a Chapel Hill lawyer who has dedicated 50 years to fighting for civil rights, and Clyde Clark, a former Chapel Hill sanitation worker and one of the Sanitation Two, answered questions after a viewing of the documentary Women Behind the Lines hosted by UNC Student Action with Workers on Monday night in the Frank Porter Graham Student Union.

After the film, “Women Behind the Lines,” Al McSurely, a lawyer who serves as the legal redress chair of the Chapel Hill-Carborro National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Clyde Clark, a Chapel Hill sanitation worker who was fired in 2010, spoke about the importance of getting students involved in workers’ rights.

“We can form this diverse rainbow of a coalition,” Clark said.

Kat Caskey, a member of SAW, said the group wanted people to know the history of labor struggles at UNC. The group asked McSurely to speak to demonstrate how workers’ rights problems are still relevant in the Chapel Hill community.

“When students and workers work together, they get a lot more done,” Caskey said. “You can put pressure upon both sides on the administration, and it’s a lot more effective.”

On Feb. 23, 1969, Lenoir workers prepared meals for students as usual, but sat at cafeteria tables and went on strike instead of serving. Supported by the Black Student Movement, workers demanded raises, paid overtime and the end of split shifts. The UNC students of 1969 and workers joined forces to raise awareness for the overworked and underpaid employees. University officials ordered state troopers to campus.

After a monthlong strike and the creation of a temporary dining hall in Manning Hall for student supporters, Gov. Robert Scott finally agreed to raise wages by 20 cents per hour.

Caskey said SAW hopes to instill knowledge that will encourage students to continue supporting workers’ rights issues, even after they graduate and leave Chapel Hill.

“What we do now directly impacts our future,” Caskey said.

In 2010, the town fired sanitation workers Kerry Bigelow and Clark when they tried to set up a union. The workers, known as the “Sanitation 2,” have been trying to get a trial for four years.

Since being fired, Clark has not found any work and is living at the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service’s Community House on West Rosemary Street.

“It was a garbage job, but it was the best job I ever had,” he said. “I just want to get back to work.”

McSurely said a strong support network from students would help.

“We need to build this movement,” he said. “It’s just going to keep building and building.”

Unionizing is important because it helps workers speak their voices, Caskey said.

“I feel that it’s incredibly important because it gives the workers power,” she said. “If they are not united, they can be taken advantage of far easier.”

university@dailytarheel.com



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