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DC DPW Chief Says Union To Blame For Massive Trash Pile-up


A top D.C. official blamed February’s trash pile up on language in a union contract that says sanitation workers don’t have to pick up trash from alleyways if they feel unsafe.

“Good crews will go in, but bad crews will skip the alleys,” William Howland, director, D.C. Department of Public Works, told the D.C. Council during testimony Friday. He went on to say that 20 percent of “problematic” garbage men caused the pile up.

Andrew Washington, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents the workers, pushed the blame back on the DPW, calling Howland statement “far from accurate.”

“Bill dropped the ball on this. He’s not going to put this back at the union,” Washington said. “If you had a bad crew and a good crew, why wouldn’t you mix them up?”

The issue stems from the DPW’s inability to collect garbage for an extended period in February after President’s Day gave government workers the day off on February 16 and a snowstorm the following day dumped six inches of snow on the District, causing the government to close for a snow day. An additional four inches of snow fell the following Saturday, making alleyways in the city too icy for the garbage trucks to safely traverse.

Normally the workers are supposed to stop their trucks on the street, walk down the alleys to collect the individual cans and bring them back to the truck to dump them. However, if they feel unsafe, they are allowed to skip the alleys and come back to them later. This scenario played out many times after the snowstorm, leading to the major pile up of trash.

In an effort to catch up with the mountains of trash piling up, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced an “All Hands on Deck” blitz, which brought in outside contractors to help the city’s union workers clean up the 200 tons of uncollected waste in the neglected alleys.

The blitz, according to Howland, drew close to 80 crews of garbage men, a third of which were private contractors from surrounding areas, into the district, and they cleaned up in 72 hours what the union workers couldn’t do by themselves in almost two weeks.

Howland attributed this to the incentive the DPW workers had to not be shown up by their private entity counterparts. The city workers also received overtime pay to participate in Bowser’s blitz.

“These private contractors are coming in here, and they are going to do it. Are you going to let them take your jobs?” Howland asked of the city’s trash collectors.

Washington, though, said it wasn’t the sanitation workers’ fault, and the DPW needs to hire more workers before they blame the garbagemen for not doing enough.

“Bill Howland needs to do some hiring,” he said. “He’s working these individuals to death.”

Washington also said workers complained about the dependability of the equipment they had to use, and that compact snow removers could have been used in the alleys prior to workers walking down them, to make sure the alleys were safe.

In total, Howland said the blitz event cost the city at least $300,000 for the private contractors and overtime pay for DPW workers.

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