Chicago's (Union) Trash Collectors Doing Better at Showing Up for Work

May 24, 2012 - 9:47 AM

(CNSNews.com) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday announced a 15 percent drop in absenteeism at the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation.

“I’ve asked City workers to be our partners in providing efficient service for taxpayers, and this is a prime example of City government and the City’s workforce improving the way things happen in Chicago,” Emanuel said in a news release announcing the trend. “The reductions in absenteeism allow us to reduce costs and ensure that the City’s workers can compete and provide the best possible service for the residents.”

Chronic absenteeism among sanitation workers -- including chronic tardiness, Monday and Friday "sick" calls, and abuse of leave without pay -- was a big problem until the mayor and sanitation commissioner met with supervisors and managers to "discuss the critical role high attendance plays in providing basic services to taxpayers and in City workers’ ability to compete with private sector workers."

In the first four months of 2012, the mayor's office says absenteeism is down 16.3 percent year-to-year for truck drivers, and 13.15 percent year-to-year for laborers. Additionally there has been a 40 percent reduction in disciplinary cases related to absenteeism – from 253 to 152.

Union leaders say they're "pleased" to work with the mayor and sanitation department "to be a part of the solution to this problem."

“In this environment, it is important that laborers stay competitive and the best way to do that is to show up to the job every day and give our best effort,” said Lou Phillips, the business manager for Laborers' Local 1001.  

In the first four months of 2012, truck drivers -- who earn around $70,000 a year -- averaged 12.8 sick calls on any given day, compared with 15.3 in the year-earlier period. Laborers -- who make a little over $68,000 a year -- averaged 26.4 sick calls in the first four months of this year, compared with 30.4 in the same period last year. (See salaries)

The sanitation department says it is educating employees about work rules and enforcing those rules to "ensure that attendance stays consistent and high." In fact, Commissioner Thomas Byrne says he is making personal phone calls to employees who are approaching the maximum paid sick time allowed -- to inform them of their status.

In addition to trash and garbage collection, the sanitation workers trims trees, blasts graffiti and control rodent infestations.

The mayor's department says the decrease in absenteeism has resulted in laborers working an additional 242 days this year, totaling 1,936 additional hours. Motor truck drivers have worked 1,304 additional hours on 163 additional days. These additional hours mean the City is on pace to achieve approximately  6,000 additional laborer hours and about 4,000 additional motor truck driver hours, totaling roughly five full worker-years.

Beginning soon, the City of Chicago plans to expand the number of departments for which it posts absenteeism data, beginning with the Department of Water Management and the Chicago Department of Transportation.