Some Hamilton councillors are pushing for a closer look at garbage routes and how they’re constructed, since new revelations have surfaced showing public sector garbage collectors are working fewer hours than their private sector counterparts.

At the same time, Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina has come to the support of city workers, saying they're more efficient than the private sector.

Coun. Brad Clark says it seems like the city is making a “quick attempt” at explaining the discrepancy instead of launching a “thorough review.”

“I would prefer to see an actual investigation into the allegations,” he said. 

The discrepancy was explained in an internal memo obtained by CBC Hamilton that was issued to city councillors and staff this week, which explained the performance of public workers in Hamilton’s garbage collection system. The memo, authored by public works head Gerry Davis, was sent to councillors at their request to help manage the optics of a Hamilton Spectator investigation on garbage collection. It explains the practice and provides arguments to help them deal with any public fallout.

The memo says that according to two key metrics, tonnes per household and cost per tonne, the city crews perform better than their private counterparts — even though some people are leaving work hours before their shifts officially end.

“Perhaps the workers are speeding through their routes, which can lead to serious health and safety concerns,” Clark said. “Perhaps management is encouraging faster collections.”

“I would like to see a comparative analysis of private versus public: the length of routes, number of units, homes, tonnage, number of employees, number of hours worked each day, and policies.”

'Could the routes be more efficient?'

Coun. Terry Whitehead, who is the chair of the public works committee, told CBC Hamilton that city workers are “absolutely” comparable to the public sector.

“But as much as all the stuff the city is saying is accurate, the question really is — is our benchmark a good one? Could the routes be more efficient?” Whitehead asked.

“We need to ask if there is the capacity to get more done per day.”

According to a Hamilton Spectator investigation, some city garbage trucks routinely gather on a private road leading to Pier 22 in the city’s east end and sit idling for up to half an hour some mornings before moving next door to the city's waste facility on Burlington Street East end their day.

“On several occasions during the investigation, the trucks idling on the obscure Pier 22 road had arrived less than four and a half hours after leaving the Burlington Street facility to start the day,” the Spectator report reads, noting that some employees were working just over five hour days.

General Manager of public works Gerry Davis did not respond to requests asking if the city will launch a comprehensive review about the city’s waste collection system.

Physically and mentally demanding

Mayor Bob Bratina threw his support behind city staff in light of the discussion on garbage collection Thursday morning, saying that city crews pick up more garbage at a lower cost compared to the private sector.

According to the city, public garbage collectors picked up 0.72 tonnes per household in 2012 while private workers picked up 0.70 tonnes per household. The city reports that in house garbage collection in 2012 was cheaper at $111 per household versus contracted services at $115 per household.

“This work is physically and mentally demanding, made all the more difficult by the extreme conditions of the past several months,” Bratina said in a statement. “I want to personally thank our city workers for the efforts they have made through one of the harshest winters in recent memory in delivering the front line services in accordance with our schedules and policies.”  

Hamilton has already weathered one scandal involving public works staff in the last year. The city fired 29 public works employees in 2013 after an investigation revealed some workers were getting paid for only a few hours of work and rumours swirled about the sale of asphalt out of the back of city trucks.

But Whitehead says the two instances aren’t really comparable. “They’re different scenarios,” he said. “There, the work wasn’t getting done. Here, it is.”

According to the memo, a study that reviews garbage route optimization improvements and efficencies should be complete and brought to council for review by the end of 2014.