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Baltimore City board OKs raises for certain sanitation workers amid staffing shortages

Baltimore’s spending board upgraded the city’s seasonal sanitation workers to full-time positions — granting them raises and benefits — and approved a $500 bonus for all sanitation workers this week.

The decision represents a victory for advocates who have called upon the city to better compensate the workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent sanitation worker shortages have prompted the city to halt curbside recycling pickup and devote all of its staff to trash pickup.

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The ongoing recycling pickup pause started in late August and was supposed to end at the beginning of November, but last week, the city announced that it could extend until mid-December.

“An update is forthcoming around Dec. 15th, if not sooner,” Yolanda Winkler, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Public Works said Thursday.

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In a statement, James Bentley, a spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the mayor “believes these actions will help to strengthen the workforce at the Department of Public Works while simultaneously reducing attrition in some of their high turnover positions.”

Wednesday’s decision will upgrade sanitation drivers, who previously made between $38,805 and $42,455, to a bracket that begins at $42,607 and extends to $48,828. For contractual laborers, that amounts to an extra $7.67 an hour, up from $11 per hour. For contractual drivers, that amounts to an extra $6.48 an hour, up from $14 per hour, Bentley said. The raises will take effect later this month, he added.

Cohen and Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer had spearheaded efforts to give raises for sanitation workers as a way of responding to the staffing deficit.

“I appreciate that the Mayor is in agreement with us about the urgent need to address this pay discrepancy for some of our most essential workers,” Schleifer said in a statement.

The two councilman had proposed a $4-an-hour wage increase for the workers, in addition to $5,000 bonuses drawn from CARES Act funds. In the end, it seems that the Young administration, chose some combination of the two, Cohen said.

“We see this as a big win for workers, but there is a reality, which is that we need more sanitation workers,” Cohen said in an interview. “We are urgently pushing for the resumption of curbside recycling. We just feel like it’s unacceptable to have this kind of delay and lag for the citizens of Baltimore.”

Shifting the workers to full-time positions makes a big difference, Cohen said.

“Doing this part-time, especially for $11 an hour just doesn’t make sense for people,” Cohen said. “What we heard resoundingly is: ‘We’re doing this and we’re working another job, and it’s incredibly stressful.’”

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