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Pittsburgh garbage collectors refuse trash pickup Wednesday, claim lack of protection from COVID-19

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh’s garbage collectors are refusing to do trash pickup, claiming they are not being protected during the coronavirus outbreak.

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.

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The city of Pittsburgh released a statement, which said, in part:

“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.”

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.

Starting Monday, Pittsburgh will suspend pickups of bulk and yard waste to help with staffing.

City residents are reminded of these tips:

  • Help limit exposure to germs by setting trash out for collection in substantial, leak-proof bags tied up and without tears.
  • Please stay back 50 feet from refuse and recycling vehicles
  • Slow down and look for workers before you attempt to go around any truck
  • Follow the proper set-out guidelines to prevent work-related injury
  • Do not include any prohibited materials in your curbside trash
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