Amid widespread delays in trash and recycling pickup last month, Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration announced that Philadelphia would hire 120 temporary workers within four weeks to assist existing crews.
But four weeks later, just 45 temporary sanitation employees are on the street helping collect trash and recycling.
And it could take at least another month to reach the goal of hiring between 120 and 150 workers, the Streets Department said this week.
The city has faced challenges at every step of the hiring process. Issues include finding workers from the city’s existing list of laborer civil service candidates who are interested in taking the job, getting them to show up for and pass medical assessments, and then keeping them at work once they begin.
That slower-than-expected pace of hiring could lead to ongoing delays in trash and recycling collection as the city continues to deal with high rates of absence among full-time sanitation workers and high volumes of trash as residents stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic. This week, city officials said both trash and recycling pickups were one to two days behind schedule.
As of Wednesday, the city had hired 55 temporary workers, 10 of whom “are now separated,” said Streets Department spokesperson Crystal Jacobs.
The city has not exhausted its list of 3,455 eligible laborers, but she said many are not interested in the temporary sanitation positions.
“While we have been able to obtain interested candidates, we have had to reach out to a large number to yield a sufficient amount,” Jacobs said. “This explains why it is taking so long to fill the positions.”
For those candidates who express interest, the next step is a medical assessment to determine whether they are capable of performing the physically demanding work. Some candidates don’t show up for the physicals and others cannot pass them, Jacobs said.
Councilmember Mark Squilla said he was disappointed to learn that the city has not yet hired all of the temporary employees.
“I don’t know why it’s taking them so long,” he said. “This is urgent. I would think that they should be able to get the 120 temps.”
Squilla said he understood that the city has a process to follow for hiring — and that some workers may not be interested in the challenging job. He joined sanitation crews this month for a day of collection.
“It’s a tough job, it’s a hard job,” he said. “Looking from a distance you think it’s easy to do, but once you’re involved in doing it physically, it’s a different story.”
Kenney said the Streets Department cannot catch up until more than 200 crews working every day on a consistent basis. Last week, Kenney said recent averages had been about 160 crews per day. On Monday, he said, there were more than 330 workers; there are three workers per crew.
The city has also blamed recent storms and improper trash bagging by residents for delays.
“Hopefully the weather will begin to moderate a little bit, and we can get some more production,” Kenney said Tuesday.
Jacobs said the city will continue working as quickly as possible to hire temporary workers.
“If our current trend rate remains constant, it will take at least another four weeks to get to a sufficient number of hires,” she said.
Democratic State Rep. Jared G. Solomon, who represents Northeast Philadelphia, also joined a sanitation crew to learn about the collection process last week. After experiencing the difficulty of the work, he said he was not surprised that the city may be struggling to find and retain temporary workers.
“I was sore for at least a day, a day and a half later,” Solomon said. “First day out, that’s your experience, that might give you pause to continue.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the level of daily staffing needed for the Streets Department to catch up on trash and recycling collection.