A Streets Department official in charge of the sanitation workers who pick up trash and recycling said Friday that the workers have all the proper personal protective equipment they need to stay safe.
The comments came as the city is still facing delays in trash pickup as workers call out sick or quarantine due to close contact with workers who have contracted the coronavirus. Others have called out exhausted from increased tonnage with more people staying home.
But the official - Deputy Commissioner Keith Warren - pushed back on claims from a union official who said the workers were doing their jobs without personal protective equipment or with face coverings that were inadequate.
In an interview with NBC10 Thursday, union leader Charles Carrington showed a thin facemask, in stark contrast to the KN95 he was wearing in the interview.
"This is a disgrace. This is a slap in the face to even hand this out to the men and women who work in this department. We're frontline workers," he said.
Carrington said Friday following the department’s news conference that employees are still not getting new PPE on every shift. They have to request it and then it varies by supervisor who is actually carrying new masks and equipment with them to hand out before a shift.
“They should give them a new mask at the start of every shift,” Carrington said.
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He also complained that there aren’t any temperature checks when workers show up to their shift. He said he wants mandatory temperature checks to prevent the spread of the virus.
As Warren spoke to reporters Friday, a table behind him was full of face masks, gloves and face shields. He said PPE has always been available, even before the pandemic - like when workers had to handle hazardous materials.
"We had personal protective equipment before COVID started, as part of the standard uniform for collecting trash. We have never run out. We did experience some long delays in delivery, as did the rest of the world when everyone was trying to get masks, our supply chain slowed down severely for awhile," he said.
Warren did acknowledge the thin and flimsy masks Carrington has shown in multiple interviews, saying the city handed those out to its agencies in the height of the pandemic, when hospitals were in need and supplies were short.
“During those times, emergency responders, hospital people had priority. But there was never a situation where sanitation workers were not given anything,” Warren said.
The recent heat wave and storms have also played a part in callouts and delays in pickups. Warren said the department is about 3 days behind its collection schedule at this point.
Plus, the department is picking up about 3,000-4,000 more tons per week than this time last year, with people staying at home getting takeout and ordering packages online.
"Even with a full workforce, we would lag behind a little, because we’re not staffed for the volume that we’re getting now due to COVID, due to everybody being home, due to the amount of tonnage that people being home is generating," Warren said.
When asked about one City Council member's proposed plan to bring in a private contractor to help with trash pickup, Warren said the city was considering all options.
Carrington says workers playing catch-up is taking a toll.
"The men and women of this department have been working 15, 16 days straight without a break trying to get this trash and this recycling up. The human body breaks down," Carrington said.
NBC10's Aaron Baskerville contributed to this report.