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DC Council: City’s Response Giant Trash Pile-up Completely Unjustified

The District’s Department of Public Works had a difficult month in February. Consecutive snow events, back-to-back government holidays and stubborn ice left D.C. scrambling to collect the ever-growing piles of trash left in city alleys.

The City’s eventual response, though, was not only incredibly expensive, but also completely unnecessary, according to a report from the D.C. Council.

The issue surrounds a clause in the city’s labor agreement with the union that represents it’s garbagemen. The contract says if garbagemen don’t feel safe going down alleys to collect cans, they don’t have to, and there is no real mechanism to justify their decision other than to take their word for it.

Council Member Mary Cheh said the city could have avoided the whole ordeal if its garbagemen were simply required to walk into alleys to collect trash if they were too icy for trucks and, if they did skip alleys, supervisors were required to approve the decision.

“The February failure to collect trash and recycling in alleys was not justified. The remedy for the trash pile-up — the blitz — was expensive and unnecessary,” Cheh said. “As snow and ice are common in the District, it is vital that DPW have a trash and recycling collection policy in place that is flexible and minimizes disruption to District residents during inclement weather.”

After D.C.’s garbagemen failed to complete some collection routes for over two weeks, roughly 200 tons of trash was left to pile up all over the city, requiring the city to bring in private contractors from surrounding areas to help clean up the trash city workers refused to.

In order to clear the mountains of garbage and overflowing trash bins, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered an “all-hands-on-deck blitz” over the weekend of February 28 to March 1, that cost the city nearly $300,000 to pay the private contractors and over-time for the city’s garbagemen.

Barney Shapiro, the CEO of Tenleytown Trash, one of the private companies brought in to help clean up the trash, told D.C. Council that none of his clients experienced collection disruption during the 2014-2015 winter. He attributed it mostly to his crews being able and willing to do their jobs, and unlike the DPW, his employees didn’t have a contract allowing them to “outright refuse to enter an alley.”

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