“One Plus One” has equaled more than Baltimore City bargained for, according to solid waste workers. In an effort to save money, the “One Plus One” trash and recycling pickup program—trash and recycling removal once a week—was implemented under the expectation that the city would also become “cleaner and greener.” But disgruntled solid waste workers say the opposite has occurred, and that the number of on-the-job injuries has increased.
“You got people who are complaining about the rats because of the one-day pickup,” said Belinda Jones, a solid waste truck driver. “A lot of the families don’t have enough receptacles to contain a lot of the trash. When people don’t have anywhere to put their trash, they illegally dump it; I see it all the time.”
The current system of waste and recycling collection is a product of former mayor, Sheila Dixon’s administration and “it’s working very well,” according to Valentina Ukwuoma, head of the Bureau for Solid Waste. Prior to initiating the program, a computer-based study evaluated how the initiative would work in Baltimore City and determined that workers would experience less exhaustion and injuries would decrease while the city became cleaner and more cost-effective.
“All the things that we said would happen with One Plus One have happened,” Ukwuoma said. “It saved the city $7 million last year.”
She also denies the claim that the program has increased the presence of rats since the city has not received more requests for rat abatement.
However, solid waste workers say the money Baltimore City saved with One Plus One has cost them staff members, increased their hours and therefore increased injuries. Jones recalled a solid waste truck driver having a heart attack while driving last year and attributes his death to the strenuous conditions under which he was working. Ukwuoma said the incident was “very unfortunate,” but unrelated to One Plus One working conditions.
“It’s really hard on us,” Jones said. “We don’t have enough workers. We’re being overworked. We’re being denied time off.”
The workers are on a four-day, 10-hour weekly schedule, which was previously five days a week, eight hours a day to pick up trash and recycling twice a week. Glen Middleton, president of Baltimore’s AFSCME Local 44 union, said One Plus One lacks a relief factor for the workers such as personal days, vacations or time off for injuries. He also said because his members take pride in their work, they often work beyond the required hours in order to get their job done.
“Over 60 percent of our members were not supportive of but we gave it a try,” Middleton said. “They’re working too long, they’re not taking lunch breaks or 15-minute breaks. It’s a safety concern. I don’t believe these workers have been respected.”
Ukwuoma said her office has not seen an increase in the number of workers complaining of exhaustion and that the three-day weekend they now have – which they did not have under the previous trash pickup system – was specifically designed for workers to be able to rest. But other than in the area of saving the city money, Jones feels the program has been unsuccessful.
“We found more clean areas when there was a two-day pickup; you didn’t have the rat problem, the men weren’t overworked and there were less injuries,” she said.
“My suggestion would be to put it back as it was.”