The city of Toledo was forced to hire private trash haulers yesterday to help collect residents' garbage because of an apparent "sick-out" among refuse workers.
Twenty-three out of nearly 100 refuse collectors were out yesterday - one day after the city began distributing to some 10,000 households the 96-gallon containers for an automated trash-pickup pilot program.
When the city begins the pilot program on Monday, the trash pickup day for about 7,000 homes in three pockets of the city will be changed and the number of routes will be cut from 33 to 27.
Julian Highsmith, the city's commissioner of solid waste, said he hired two trucks each yesterday from Allied Waste Services and Waste Management at a cost of $140 an hour per truck.
Mr. Highsmith said officials from Teamsters Local 20, which represents the refuse collectors, denied sanctioning a sick-out.
"The first thing I did was ask the people we had if anyone wanted to work overtime," Mr. Highsmith said. "After that, I had to go and get the private companies and their trucks."
He could not say last night what the total cost in overtime and hiring the two private trash haulers would be to the city.
Toledo City Council President Mark Sobczak, who is also vice president of Teamsters Local 20, declined to comment.
Mr. Highsmith said there would be no job reductions because of the pilot program.
When asked to speculate on the reason so many workers had called off, Mr. Highsmith said it could be the route reduction.
"That's going to make them work longer days," he said. "Right now, they are averaging four to five hours, and with these longer routes, they will probably be working six to seven hours a day."
Earlier this year, city officials said after the route adjustments, Toledo would be left with 59 collectors and 36 drivers - down from 111 refuse collectors and drivers. The cuts would save the city about $460,000 from May 1 to Dec. 31.
Brian Schwartz, spokesman for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, said city officials have noticed a pattern of highest call-offs during the heavy trash collection days.
Toledo's goal is to have trash and recycling pickups completely automated by May, 2010, with the exception of some streets that are too narrow for the trucks equipped with automated arms on the side.
Citywide automated pickup planned for 2010 would require only 11 collectors and 44 drivers.
Also on Monday, the city's trash collection fee will increase from $5.50 a month to $7 a month for those who don't recycle and decrease from $3 to $2 a month for those who do.
It will increase again on May 1, 2009, to $8.50 a month for those who don't recycle and drop to $1 for those who do. Beginning on May 1, 2010, the fee jumps to $10 a month for those who don't recycle, and drops to zero for those who participate in curbside recycling.
City officials asked residents to leave their garbage out yesterday and said it would be picked up.
"The city of Toledo will not tolerate employees not doing the jobs," Mr. Schwartz said in a statement.
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