Dallas City Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn rode along with sanitation workers Thursday to learn first-hand about the work.
Her ride was scheduled before new warnings this week from sanitation officials about a new round of collection delays from a shortage of workers but after past service complaints from residents.
Mendelsohn said she gained new insight about the complications of trash pick-up but remains anxious to see stronger management.
She spent the morning riding with city employee Marlon Hardin who operates an automated side arm collection truck.
Mendelsohn said she learned about the difficulty of grabbing carts that were left too close to other objects by residents.
“Now I know why so many people call and tell me and they've had their missed trash. Well, it's missed because they couldn't get to it,” Mendelsohn said.
The latest report from sanitation managers is that most missed collections are recycling pick-ups because of a shortage of temporary employees who work on the back of those trucks.
The latest news from around North Texas.
Those temporary contract workers do not receive the city health insurance that city employees like Marlon Hardin get.
“We get benefits, pension, 401k. So, those are definitely great benefits as well, yes,” Hardin said.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, acting Sanitation Director Timothy Oliver said it has been hard to keep enough temporary workers on the job.
“These are important jobs, but with the economy coming out of the pandemic, we’re competing against everyone, private sector, other government entities. We’re competing against everyone to get these people hired and back to work,” Oliver said.
A new city contract to provide the temporary workers begins in August with pay rising to around $15 an hour from the $12.38 the temporary workers receive now.
Driver Hardin said the temporary workers have a difficult job, especially in hot weather.
“Those guys are the heartbeat of those trucks, so they do an awesome job for what they do,” Hardin said.
On Thursday Mendelsohn said 12 temporary workers who were expected to work on sanitation trucks did not show up. That’s six city trucks that were not staffed, likely causing new delays.
Some people have suggested that better-paid and trained city workers may be necessary to provide the service Dallas residents expect.
“It’s something I think we need to look at. What I've heard from staff members is there's a liability issue and they're trying to offload that liability,” Mendelsohn said.
After her ride-along, Mendelsohn praised the work of city employee Marlon Hardin. He’s been on the same route for 3 years.
“Because he’s been on the job for a while, he doesn’t look at the map. He knows every single alley, every single turn of where he is going. And even as the driver of an automated truck, there’s a physical component to it. He’s still in and out, putting tags on cans in the wrong place,” she said. “The truck is very loud. It’s very bumpy. You really shake around in it, so I think I’d call it a tough working condition.”
The Dallas Sanitation Department has been without a director for more than a year. Mendelsohn suggested it may be partly to blame for management problems. A new director has just been hired from Sacramento, California. He starts July 14t.
“And I think that it is a balance of trying to be customer-focused, which clearly Marlon is, along with being safe,” Mendelsohn said.
Acting Director Timothy Oliver will continue with the Sanitation Department as an assistant to the new director according to a press release from City Manager T.C. Broadnax about the new director’s hiring.
Broadnax praised Oliver’s efforts as interim leader.