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Don’t treat workers like garbage, including garbage workers

Wednesday, Apr 8, 2020

* Fran Spielman

Chicago’s forgotten army of 2,000 refuse collection workers are picking up 50 percent more garbage during the statewide, stay-at-home order — but without the masks distributed to other front-line workers, according to their union leader.

Steve Marcucci, vice-president of Laborers Local 1001, said his members are working harder than ever to keep the city clean and prevent the sheer volume of garbage from piling up in alleys, triggering an explosion in the city’s rat population. […]

“I’m not aware that the sanitation workers aren’t being equipped [with masks]. That’s something we’ll look into. … We’re going to make sure they’re protected,” the mayor said. […]

“Employees are permitted to use cloth face coverings while at work unless the use of such cloth face covering would pose a health or safety risk to the employee. The use of cloth face coverings by employees is voluntary,” [Streets and Sanitation spokesperson Christina Villarreal] wrote.

Cloth face coverings help prevent people from spraying other people with infected droplets. They’ll help, but that’s not really the issue here. The problem is the workers are handling a whole lot of refuse that could be infected.

* From the National Institute of Health

The virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces, according to a new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine. The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

Better masks could help, so it should at least be looked into. That cold bureaucratic response from Streets and San was uncalled for.

If you’re still going in to work, please tell the rest of us about your experiences in comments. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Dotnonymous - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 10:33 am:

    Waste haulers won’t be forgotten when the waste isn’t hauled.

  2. - Rural Schools of Illinois - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 10:43 am:

    Concerns for Public School Support staff- preparing and distributing meals to hundreds of students per day, five days a week…and delivering education packets by bus and picking up completed work. In districts where “online remote learning” isn’t possible, the paper to pencil work is essential to meet compliance with the ISBE. If it’s ‘only a matter of time’ that the virus spreads through our community, I’m fearful of putting those people in harm’s way.

  3. - Fairycat - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 11:11 am:

    Utilities workers literally keep the lights on. They work in crowded control rooms and with contractors and suppliers, handing permits and clipboards back and forth. They often work on skeleton crews with little redundancy. If a crew gets sick, there are few replacements for this highly technical work. If we care about keeping electricity to our homes, we should be protecting these essential workers.

  4. - FormerParatrooper - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 11:37 am:

    Gloves would also be something the garbage handlers need. Something that creates a barrier better than just standard gloves. Cotton and other fabric gloves would give the virus a place to stay.

    I was working at the beginning. We are now doing jobs where we can drive instead of fly.

  5. - Linus - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 11:41 am:

    We slipped our garbagemen each a $20 bill this week, in gratitude for their work and dedication. (And they tried to beg off, insisting they were just doing their jobs.)

    But an extra $20 is zero substitute for their employers making sure they have proper protection from COVID while on the job.

  6. - GC - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 12:10 pm:

    They don’t need the masks. This is solitary work. They aren’t getting close to others and breaching social distancing, they aren’t going into households.

    The masks are needed plenty of places elsewhere. The possibility of contaminated waste is touch exposure, not aerosol. They should already have gloves for handling waste and should already be practicing face sanitation / etc. pre-COVID-19.

  7. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 12:46 pm:

    It’s almost as if the government’s focus on PPE is demonstrating that as an employer — OUR — governments have a tendency to treat it’s workers and essential service providers as disposable.

    I read in the NYTimes today that dozens of NYC transit workers have died. Dozens.

    How many hundreds of direct or indirect public employees are going to die at the hands of our government’s failures to adequately protect them?

    We need to hold our elected officials accountable for what they have allowed our public servants to endure lest we also find ourselves culpable.

  8. - Amalia - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 1:24 pm:

    have seen workers wearing gloves lots in the past, before this crisis.

  9. - Asst. Mgr. Strickland Propane - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 1:37 pm:

    A fun part of each week for my 18 month old daughter is waving to the garbage man. I hope it makes the people driving the trucks smile, like it does for her. Waste hauling is tough job under ideal circumstances, COVID-19 only compounds the job stress. They should absolutely have adequate masks, like every essential employee.

  10. - granville - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 2:21 pm:

    Thank God there’s an official spokesperson for Streets & Sans or we wouldn’t get great communications like this one.

  11. - Rich Hill - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 3:22 pm:

    One of the reasons we have sanitation departments with regular pickups is the wave of epidemics that ravaged cities in the late 19th century. These are essential workers in all times, and especially times like these. They must be protected.

  12. - Dotnonymous - Wednesday, Apr 8, 20 @ 3:43 pm:

    I’ve tipped my waste hauler at Christmas for many years…gladly.

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