Waste collection workers protest for better protection against COVID-19

Some garbage collection was halted Monday after about 50 Hamilton waste collectors refused work over safety concerns around COVID-19.

The workers want hand sanitizer, more social distancing and possible biweekly collection

Hamilton waste collection workers want better protections against COVID-19. (Rick Hughes/CBC)

Some garbage collection was halted Monday after about 50 Hamilton waste collectors refused work over safety concerns around COVID-19.

The city workers have recently heard from public health that the virus can stay on garbage cans for up to three days, says Barry Conway, vice-president of the CUPE 5167 outside workers unit. They want hand sanitizer, adequate facilities to wash their hands at the yard, and more ability to social distance from each other and the public.

That may include moving to biweekly pickup until the pandemic has eased, Conway said, and not collecting leaf and yard waste. Collecting every two weeks would mean half as many workers as usual at the yard.

"Everybody here in the end wants to maintain service levels for the public," he said, but the workers are worried.

Management so far, Conway said, is "definitely being very cooperative."

Paul Johnson, director of the city's emergency operations centre, said waste collection wouldn't continue Monday. The city will work out Tuesday how to get back on schedule. Residents whose waste collection day was Monday should put their waste out on Tuesday.

"We're not going to be able to work through these issues today," he said.

Paul McKee is vice-president of Unifor Local 4268, which represents about 150 waste collection workers at GFL. The city contracts GFL for city-wide recycling, and for garbage collection in some areas of Hamilton.

GFL workers have had similar concerns as CUPE, he said.

GFL has made changes, such as putting morning paperwork in workers' trucks rather than having them line up for it. Ten days ago, the company also started putting bottles of soap and water in the trucks so the workers can wash their hands.

He echoed Conway that the public do approach them when they're doing their jobs, especially now.

"People are bored," he said. "They're at home. They're getting cabin fever, and they see someone they want to talk to."

Johnson said some waste collectors hand out colouring books to kids who run out to watch the trucks. People need to stop that for now.

"During this period of time, the public is asked to just let people do their work and keep that separation."

Hamilton has 32 confirmed cases of coronavirus, said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health. So far, all but two are still related to travel.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca