JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Your sidewalk is about to become a busy place. It’s the time of year to get out and get your hands dirty doing yard work and all that trash needs to be picked up. It also means waste haulers are staffing up to meet demand. The city says its contractors are in better shape and able to resume curbside recycling collection. Meanwhile, a nationwide labor crisis continues.
Carriers call this time of year “March Madness.” For many, that means three points and rebounds, but for Bill Brinkley, the general manager of Republic Services, it means a very busy season. “That’s when the azaleas start to bloom,” he says, “and people start working in their gardens and tree branches, bushes and clippings are thrown onto the sidewalk. , and garden waste collection is skyrocketing.”
So while many will fill in parentheses, Brinkley hopes you’ll fill out a job application and prepare for several very busy months. The problem is that carriers have been in labor shortages for a year – and although they say they are now in a good position, the season’s surge in demand could take its toll.
Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner has spoken to city manager Brian Hughes about the difficulty in finding workers. According to him, “over the year, since 2017, the labor pool has shrunk. The economy is better, so there’s been a lot of attraction – not just from drivers – but from all roles in solid waste to other industries. So we asked how the city plans to handle this move to the busiest time of year for yard waste. Hughes didn’t elaborate, simply saying, “Well, those are the challenges we face.”
The city returned its contract with Republic to bid last year after too many problems and missed pickups, but the company still serves northern St. Johns County. In our January interview with the general manager, Brinkley said they needed a dozen extra workers in the warmer months to make sure they were doing all their pickups.
So, two months before the high season, we asked him if he was already recruiting. “Oh yeah,” Brinkley said, “we’re onboarding assistants now.”
Brinkley says the amount of yard waste is expected to nearly double, jumping 44% between February and May. In the city of Jacksonville, everything is picked up by people, not automated trucks. They work rain or shine in 90 degree heat and are paid less than $20/hour.
So as we head into what will likely literally be “March Madness” for carriers, what does this mean for the taxpayer? Well, January and February are considered slow months in the industry and the number of missed pickups was still in the hundreds, not counting suspended recycling pickups that didn’t happen. So many fear that returning to recycling will be a bumpy road, with a sidewalk littered with even later pickups.
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