Coronavirus: Waste collection workers in Hamilton demand better COVID-19 protection

Some Hamilton waste collectors are refusing to work at a city yard this morning because of safety concerns around COVID-19. Don Mitchell / Global News

Update: The City of Hamilton has suspended leaf and yard waste collection until further notice.

The City of Hamilton and its waste collection workers are trying to resolve some health and safety concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barry Conway, vice-president of the CUPE 5167 outside workers unit, says about 70 workers took part in a collective work refusal on Monday after learning from public health that the virus could live on garbage cans for up to three days.

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Conway says waste collection workers are “happy to play our role” during the health emergency, but he adds that they are worried, “don’t want to catch this virus” and are seeking assurance that they will be safe while doing their jobs.

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Conway also stresses that the city has been “responsive”, adding that the union and employer are “working together” to resolve their issues.

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He says progress has already been made towards ensuring that workers have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, as well as sanitizer and wipes on waste collection vehicles.

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Conway says there are also concerns about social distancing among waste collection workers and in their interactions with members of the public.

He’s suggesting that the city consider switching to garbage collection every second week, and suspending leaf and yard waste collection and the collection of bulk items during the pandemic to reduce the number of employees who are active in the city yard at the same time.

Paul Johnson, Director of Hamilton’s Emergency Operations Centre, confirms discussions are taking place and he adds that “there really isn’t anything that’s off the table.”

He adds that “we’ll look at all eventualities and really react as we need to from a staffing level, from a safety level, as we move through this.”

Johnson also stresses that the city hopes to get waste collection back on track “quickly.”

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For anyone who didn’t receive collection as expected on Monday, he says “we’ll see if we can get it at tomorrow (Tuesday).”


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