The city of Pittsburgh sent garbage collectors home with full pay earlier today after the workers refused to pick up, instead gathering in protest for better safety equipment and requesting hazard pay for potential exposure to the ongoing spread of Coronavirus.
From local Pittsburgh news outlet WPXI:
Workers gathered Wednesday morning outside the Pittsburgh Bureau of Environmental Services building on Railroad Street in the Strip District.
“We’re playing Russian roulette with every garbage bag that we’re grabbing,” employee Sheldon White said. “Half the people don’t tie their bags, so when the stuff spills out, they tell you to pick it up. There’s Kleenexes that people blow their nose and cough in.”
Workers said they want protective equipment and hazard pay.
The workers were sent home with pay Wednesday morning and were told to come back Thursday, when normal service is expected to resume.
There’s also video of the workers talking about their concerns before being sent home earlier this morning, via WPXI:
The workers were sent home while union representatives met with city managers to discuss the issue. The city later responded with a statement claiming it was already taking ample precaution against exposing workers Coronavirus, with regular sanitation cycles and listing best practices to limit chances of exposure.
The City of Pittsburgh is taking all due precautions to protect refuse workers from the Bureau of Environmental Services who were sent home today due to fears over COVID-19 exposure, and has been taking these precautions with all essential City personnel since the start of the pandemic.
The City has been following Centers for Disease Control guidance including having Environmental Services buildings and trucks cleaned regularly; providing workers with protective glasses and gloves; and doing daily health screenings.
Workers are given gloves each day that they are not allowed to take home, and have been offered plastic gloves to wear under them if they wish.
The City has provided Environmental Services workers wipes to regularly clean off their equipment, and the City has encouraged workers to wash their uniforms daily.Every morning workers are given a health care check-list to identify if they have any symptoms of the virus. This check-list has been mischaracterized as a “release form,” which it is not.
WPXI’s Liz Kilmer reported that worker shifts would be staggered to limit interaction in workspaces, and that normal pickup service is expected to resume tomorrow. The city also announced it would suspend pickups of bulk and yard waste to help manage staffing, according to WPXI.
So far, only the wife of a Environmental Services employee has tested presumptive positive for Coronavirus but is not showing symptoms, according to WPXI:
Officials said the wife of an employee had a presumptive positive test result, which was reported Tuesday. As a result, the Environmental Services headquarters was cleaned and sanitized, the report was registered, and medical professionals were contacted to ensure CDC protocols were followed.
The worker is in self-quarantine, officials said, though he and his wife are not showing symptoms.
The city’s statement does not fully address the concerns and requests of the workers this morning.
The city made no announcement about hazard pay, which seems like a reasonable request as the workers are undoubtedly critical to the community even in a national emergency, and are now being asked to work through the stress of potential exposure to a deadly virus we don’t fully understand yet, on top of cleaning up after us. Pay them.