Your trash didn’t get picked up? Expect some delays in Philadelphia

Add trash pickup to your growing list of things disrupted by COVID-19. Philadelphia sanitation workers are calling out of work, creating service delays.

City sanitation workers did not make their usual stop on this Kensington block on April 1, 2020. (Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY)

City sanitation workers did not make their usual stop on this Kensington block on April 1, 2020. (Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY)

This article was updated on April 3, 2020.

Add trash pickup to your rapidly growing list of things disrupted by the coronavirus.

The pandemic is causing more sanitation employees to call out of work, challenging the capacity of the city’s Streets Department to maintain its regular schedule for trash and recycling collection, and creating some service backups.

“Residents should expect some collection delays if the health crisis continues to have an impact on employee attendance,”  the city’s managing director Brian Abernathy said Friday.

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There will be no recycling collection at all next week, from Monday, April 6 to Saturday, April 11. There will be no collection of trash on April 10, Good Friday.

Starting April 13, recycling materials will be collected on an every-other-week schedule until May 15, Abernathy announced Friday. That schedule may continue beyond May 15 if needed, he said.

Deemed essential workers, the people who pick up Philadelphia’s recycling and trash have been working on the front lines, potentially exposing themselves to the virus every day. 

None of the city’s sanitation workers have as of now tested positive for COVID-19, according to Omar Salaam, a business agent with AFSCME District Council 33, which represents more than 1,100 Streets Department workers. But workers are terrified because they don’t have masks and other personal protective equipment available, he said.

“People are very fearful of being out there. A lot of employees have health complications like asthma, and they’re still working past their shifts, trying to get the city cleaned up,” Salaam said. 

Salaam said trash collection is running behind because employees had to stay home to take care of their kids since schools were closed.

“Which was the right thing to do,” he said. 

But workers are also frustrated, Salaam said. Sanitation workers and other city employees deemed essential and unable to work from home had received 150% of their salaries for the first 11 days of the city’s coronavirus outbreak because of the increased risks. That policy ended on March 29. The city is now working to broker new, short-term contracts with some city unions.

“The city made one agreement and then didn’t renew it,” Salaam said. 

In New York City as of March 27, 120 sanitation workers had been infected with COVID-19, according to Waste 360. In North Carolina, the virus killed a sanitation worker last week.

Pittsburgh sanitation workers rallied last week to demand better protective gear after one of their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19.

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