Sanitation workers told Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council on Thursday the current management of the Division of Waste Management does not respect workers or worker safety.
"We have supervisors who are being threatened and disrespected just as well as our drivers," said Emma Turley, a retired sanitation worker who spoke before the council Thursday. "It's not right and it's not fair because they do not work for a dictatorship."
Turley worked at the department for 27 years and helped start the sanitation workers union. "Just because you work in garbage, doesn't mean you treat them as garbage."
Gray told the sanitation workers who attended and spoke at the Thursday council meeting that the city is open to hearing the sanitation workers' concerns. Gray said the city has already made changes to a memorandum of understanding that was signed by the city and the sanitation workers in May to address many of the workers' concerns. The sanitation workers also held a rally outside the government center before Thursday's council meeting.
"We can always improve and we take your concerns seriously," Gray said. "We have made changes, and we will continue to make changes, and we will listen. We value and appreciate your hard work and we value your contributions and your safety."
Dion Henry, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local union 4468, thanked Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton for meeting with the union on Tuesday. At that meeting, the union and the city agreed to make changes to the parts of the memorandum of understanding that were at issue, including policies regarding overtime, vacation time and worker safety.
But Henry said that the issues should have been addressed long before Tuesday. The union has had an agreement with the city since May. But Henry said that Division of Waste Management Director Tracey Thurman refused to address any of the issues with the union or even non-union employees. Thurman has a closed-door policy, he said.
"We need a director that is going to put safety first," Henry said.
Henry and other sanitation workers say the department implemented a policy earlier this year that limited the recycling routes to one driver. After that decision was made, workers got injured. Workers have also been injured on front-loader and other routes as those routes have expanded to more stops because the department is losing so many drivers, Henry said.
At least seven employees are currently injured and not able to work, he said.
Henry said they had a driver recently who started his route at 5:30 a.m. and didn't clock out until 9:24 p.m. It's dangerous for drivers to drive that many hours. That driver then had to turn around and do the same thing the next day — meaning he did not get enough sleep, Henry said.
The city has made key changes to the memorandum of understanding, including adding more people to the recycling routes temporarily.
Both sides also agreed to move to a rotation list for overtime. If too many workers ask for vacation for the same date, those vacation requests will be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis. If two employees ask for a vacation date at the same time, the vacation will be granted based on seniority.
Employees will also not have to bring in a doctor's note if they are sick for one day, which was previously required. Doctors' notes are now only required if an employee misses three days of work. The city also agreed to give those employees back pay who were sick for one day but previously were not paid.
The city has also agreed that drivers should not drive more than 10 hours in one day, a complaint of the union.
Gray said the city and the union meet under an agreement called "meet and confer," which is a step down from full union status. That's a new type of management agreement that the city has not used before. Both sides are trying to determine how it should work, he said.
Carli Stevenson, a spokeswoman for AFSCME, said after Thursday's council meeting that the union will follow up with the city.
"We understand that this is a process," Stevenson said. "I am hopeful that with so many sanitation workers coming to tonight's meeting — after they have worked a full day — that they will take what was said under consideration and make necessary changes."