Trash collectors in Baltimore have been paid thousands of dollars in unnecessary overtime because they are allowed to end their 10-hour shifts or begin collecting overtime after finishing one route, “regardless of how quickly the route was completed," according to a report released Tuesday by the Office of the Inspector General.
In one instance, workers finished their assigned route at noon and completed a second route for overtime, finishing that one within their originally designated 10-hour shift, city’s watchdog agency reported.
“Management’s interpretation of the one task/route rule allowed the workers to get paid their normal hourly wage for their assigned 10-hour shift, then make 4 hours of overtime for the second route, even though the employees only worked a total of 10 hours,” Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming wrote. “This interpretation by Management costs the City of Baltimore thousands of dollars in overtime pay.”
The “task work” system, as it’s known, is governed by a memorandum of understanding between the city and its union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 44. The system is supposed to ensure collectors have enough time to finish their full routes.
But Cumming said the city misinterprets a section that excuses workers after they complete “all of the tasks and/or routes to which they are assigned for the day.”
“The language in the MOU does not limit management to assigning crews to only one route per day," the inspector general wrote. “The MOU allows for multiple tasks or routes to be assigned if they can be completed within the 10-hour assigned shift.”
The city, Cumming said in an interview, is “wasting so much money on this.”
Rudy Chow, the director of the Public Works Department, said in his formal response to the report that he has directed the Solid Waste Bureau to purchase routing software to optimize the trash collectors’ daily routes and address the timeliness issues.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who worked as a trash collector early in his career, recalled working under the task work system in an interview with The Baltimore Sun in April.
He called riding the garbage truck “one of the best jobs I can truly say I had.”
“We got to work at 6," he said. "We had task work. We were so good, so quick, [that by] 10 o’clock I was coming home. It was called ‘task work.’ That’s how the unions had it set up.”
The AFSCME Local 44, which represents Baltimore City municipal employees, did not respond to a request for comment.
The city is in negotiations with AFSCME Local 44 over a new contract, Chow wrote in his response, and deferred to the city’s labor commissioner and city solicitor “to explain the history of the task work system from a labor perspective as well as any potential implications resulting from changing the City’s interpretation.”
“I agree that solid waste routes should not be completed too quickly as that can indicate the routes are not mapped properly or that crews were not diligent while performing their work," the director wrote. "Solid Waste managers are constantly examining routes to try and optimize efficiency.”
Asked for comment, City Solicitor Andre Davis referred to a lesson he said he learned during the negotiations over a new police contract: “Labor negotiations are very odd things.”
“It’s an odd parallel universe,” said Davis, referring further questions to Labor Commissioner Deborah F. Moore-Carter, who could not be reached for comment.
The inspector general’s report also highlighted sanitation issues at the Department of Public Works’ offices at 6101 Bowley’s Lane, which, she wrote, “may not be in compliance with OSHA regulations," she wrote.
Several urinals in the men’s restroom were out of order, a sink in the restroom had no running water from the faucet, a water fountain was turned off “because it was allegedly contaminated" and an alarm notifying employees that a methane gas tank was full had been disarmed, the Inspector General reported.
The department has received estimates for repairs to the Bowley’s Lane facility and is working with the city’s Department of General Services to identify the funding and schedule repairs, Chow wrote.