Stinky Situation: Trash piling up because of worker shortage


(NewsNation Now) — People are seeing trash pile up along city blocks across the country because of worker shortages seen in many communities.

Because people are out sick with COVID-19, or in some cases, on strike, there just isn’t enough manpower to pick all the garbage up. Bad weather in many parts of the nation isn’t helping matters.

Slowdowns have caused recycling bins full of Christmas gift boxes and wrapping paper to languish on Nashville curbs, the Associated Press reported. Trash bags are piling up on Philadelphia streets and bags of uncollected yard waste block sidewalks in Atlanta.

Jon Swerens, who lives right outside Fort Wayne, Indiana hasn’t gotten his trash removed in two weeks.

“Is it going to be another week? Is it going to be another day?” Swerens said. “No one really knows.”

Red River Waste Solutions in Fort Wayne attributed the weeks-long delay to COVID-19 hitting drivers hard, according to NewsNation local affiliate WANE, though residents say this has been an issue before the pandemic as well.

Past issues with garbage collection occurred when COVID-19 first hit the United States, and then again when delta peaked. Now, with the omicron variant surging in the nation, another garbage crisis is happening.

In Peoria, Arizona, multiple workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days, meaning residents in that city are also seeing delays in trash pickup. In Chesapeake, Virginia, they suspended garbage pickup on Tuesday because of staffing issues. NewsNation local affiliate WAVY reported that Chesapeake’s director of Public Works said the city’s waste management department has been working with only half its typical staff.

Philadelphia has around 10 to 15% of its 900-person sanitation workforce out on any given day, Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said.

In other parts of the country, sanitation workers have been striking and demanding better wages and working conditions, such as in Chula Vista, California. Chula Vista’s city manager had to declare a local emergency because of overflowing trash bins throughout the community as a result of the strike, NewsNation local affiliate FOX 5 said. While sanitation employees in Chula Vista are back to work this week, they will now have to play catch-up to gather the mountains of trash that have gathered in southern California.

Winter storms in New York City mean sanitation crews are being pulled away from trash pickup to clear streets of snow and ice.

Despite a backlog of scheduled collections, New York Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said ensuring trash collection is a top priority.

“Just leave it out, we’re coming,” Grayson said.

New York City, which has the largest municipal sanitation force in the world, had 2,000 of its 7,000 workers out because of the latest round of the coronavirus, though the city has not suspended any services.

Harry Nespoli, president of the union local representing the city’s sanitation workers, said right now, “It’s a swinging door” for the force. While some employees are coming back after quarantining, others are testing positive for the coronavirus.

Some municipalities have started hiring temporary workers or contracting with private haulers to keep up with the waste that needs to be collected. To recruit and retain more sanitation workers, some places are offering signing and retention bonuses or pay raises.

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