Sanitation director says he'll request new trucks with AC

Winston-Salem Sanitation Director Johnnie Taylor told a city panel on Tuesday evening that his department will be requesting four new automated rear-loader garbage trucks to replace vehicles in the fleet that lack air conditioning.

The remaining 21 vehicles have working air conditioning systems.

The wife of sanitation driver Donald Gore told city council that her husband collapsed on the floor on several occasions upon returning home on hot days after driving a route in a truck without air conditioning. Angelia Byrd, a driver who was fired last June, told YES! Weekly she passed out on the side of a road on the verge of a heatstroke and had to be treated by a doctor. And Curtis McLaurin, a driver, said laborers have experienced heatstroke in the past. The complaints are detailed in a YES! Weekly cover story that also explored allegations of managerial misconduct and sexual harassment, along with tensions between employees and residential customers related to backyard trash collection.

Assistant City Manager Greg Turner told YES! Weekly last month that the it costs from $200,000 to $250,000 to replace the trucks.

Councilman Dan Besse responded cautiously to Taylor's report after the meeting, saying that he didn't know whether the request would be included in the city's upcoming 2013-2014 budget. Besse also noted that Taylor did not mention health and safety concerns as reasons for replacing the trucks. The three council members who heard the presentation during the public works committee meeting -- including Robert Clark, who chairs the committee, along with Besse and James Taylor Jr. -- did not question the sanitation director on that count.

"He didn't go into any detail of the degree of health and safety concerns," Besse said. "Certainly it would be relevant to council considerations as to whether we have drivers experiencing difficulties in the non-air conditioned vehicles. The reason it's relevant to know whether it gets included in the city manager's budget is that level of inquiry may be superfluous. We may not need to know whether there's a serious concern if it's addressed in the budget.

"I don't mean to discount anything anybody says in open comment," Besse continued, alluding to statements Donald and Mary Gore addressed to city council in February, "but when you're dealing with significant expenditures you need to ask the question of whether you're dealing with an isolated anecdote that's not well founded or a pattern of problems.

Besse did ask the sanitation director about safety considerations related to backyard collection, a service that the city provides to residents that attest that no one in their household is physically able to roll their cart out to the curb.

Taylor responded by saying that employee injuries have decreased since the city began the transition from universal backyard service to mainly curbside pickup, adding, "Less exposure has definitely benefited the department."

Taylor said, "Most of those injuries that I've reviewed have been slips, trips or falls. Some of those things are the result of maybe holes in the yard. Other things we deal with are dew in the morning a slippery surface."

Taylor said employees have not experienced a significant number of punctures, cuts and other injuries resulting from directly handling garbage bags in the course of performing backyard service.

Clark requested that staff provide detailed information about workers compensation claims due to injuries by sanitation employees.

Besse asked Taylor about the department's policies regulating interactions between employees and members of the public. One of the former employees, Angelia Byrd, was fired after the city manager upheld a finding that she had cursed and threatened a residential customer, and some employees have said backyard service increases the likelihood of conflict with members of the public.

"There are both written and informal [policies]," Taylor said. "The written policy needs to be updated. The informal information is provided in the tailgate meetings, which provides them several options to deal with any problem situations. Number one being, they are authorized to leave the scene. Two being they have the opportunity to contact the supervisor through CityLink. And to answer your question, we are working on updating all written policies to be distributed to employees."

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