Last night was the latest deadline in New York City for municipal workers to show proof of at least one COVID vaccination or face being put on leave without pay. Up until now, most of the attention has been focused on unvaccinated police officers, firefighters, and EMTs for obvious reasons. But there’s another critical group of workers who have also seen high rates of hesitancy who may be out of a job on Monday and their loss will also potentially produce catastrophic results for the Big Apple. That would be the city’s trash collectors. They are far from being 100% vaccinated, and some sanitation truck drivers were skipping trash pickup stops on Thursday, instead traveling to protest outside of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s residence. Given the amount of literal garbage Gotham generates on a daily basis, that’s a situation that won’t stay on the back burner for long. (Associated Press)
Mounting trash. Closed firehouses. Fewer police and ambulances on the street…
Police officers, firefighters, garbage collectors and most other city workers face a 5 p.m. Friday deadline to show proof they’ve gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine…
The mayor called the sanitation slowdowns “unacceptable” and said that department will move to 12-hour and Sunday shifts to ensure trash doesn’t pile up.
If anything, the garbage collectors have an even larger group of workers who are refusing to comply than the other essential workers. Unvaccinated police and firefighters add up to 26% and 29% of those workforces respectively. But a full third of sanitation workers (33%) are also yet to roll up their sleeves.
Anyone who lived through any of the sustained garbage collector strikes of the 60s and 70s, starting with the one in 1968, will remember what a horror show that turned into. The Big Apple can go one or possibly two days at most without trash pickup before the city starts turning into a nightmare. The population density is so high that the streets of New York quickly become towering canyons filled with rotting trash bags. The city’s rat population, barely under control on the best of days, explodes in less than a week. The combined health impacts of all of this can start filling up hospitals faster than a COVID outbreak.
The Mayor is still refusing to back down even as these potential crisis situations loom. Up until yesterday, municipal workers were able to submit weekly negative COVID test results and remain on the job. One sanitation truck driver asked the Post why that option can’t continue if it’s currently working and the infection rates continue to decline. It’s a fair question that most of the hesitant workers would like an answer to.
As far as potentially losing one-third of the city’s trash truck drivers overnight goes, Mayor de Blasio had the same inadequate answer that he offered for the police and the firefighters. 12-hour shifts, mandatory overtime and canceled days off. But just as with the other workers, that’s a self-defeating recipe. The remaining, vaccinated drivers will quickly begin to burn out and look for other employment opportunities.
If this really happens and the city streets begin overflowing with trash, Bill de Blasio should count himself lucky that he’ll be out of office in January. By that time, the crowds surrounding his residence won’t just be composed of people holding signs and complaining. They’ll be arriving with pitchforks and torches.