Sanitation complaints to Philadelphia's 311 line skyrocket in wake of COVID-19 outbreak

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Complaints to Philadelphia's 311 call center surrounding recycling and trash pickup have quadrupled in recent weeks.

"They just leave it and if you say something to them, some get a little hostile," said Jamil Overton, who called to complain. "One trash guy said he was going to smack me one day."

The city began bi-weekly recycling pickup when the pandemic hit.

The changes appear to have led to more complaints by residents.

Frank Armentani told Acton News he walked out of his building and saw his bottles and cans left on the curb.

He had no choice but to chase the sanitation truck so it wouldn't sit in his bin another two weeks.

"I grabbed the bag and went after them and said, 'How come you didn't pick mine up?' He pointed at the driver. She is yacking away and I yacked back," he said.

An Action News analysis found on average the city receives 1,300 complaints to 311 each week, the number was closer to 500 before the coronavirus pandemic.

The city blames call-outs by sanitation workers which have more than doubled since mid-March from 13% the week ending March 16 to 29% the week ending May 11th.

"When we had our emergency salary provisions in the last two weeks of March, those attendance issues disappeared, and when that time and a half was no longer offered, our attendance issued reappeared," said Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy.

Sanitation workers told Action News it has left some of them struggling to keep up.

"I've been out here ever since it started...haven't missed a day yet," said one employee, who didn't give his name.

The Streets Department told Action News on weeks that recycling is picked up, the schedule is usually a day behind and is , at times, working on Sundays to finish the job.

The city says the sanitation department does not have a COVID-19 outbreak, despite the spike in sick call outs.

Officials are now working with the union to stabilize staffing.

"Unless staffing levels and attendance improve, we can't go back to every week collections," Abernathy said.

Sick Calls Percentage by week ending dates:

March 16 - 13%

March 23 - 9%

March 30 - 18%

April 6 - 13%

April 13 - 21%

April 20 - 21%

April 27 - 23%

May 4 - 29%

May 11 - 29%

May 18 - 27%


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