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Impatience growing as disruption of garbage collection continues in Saint John

Gerry Cobbett, right, picked up her sister Mary Ann Clarke — and her garbage — on Wednesday, and the two took their bags directly to the landfill.  (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
Gerry Cobbett, right, picked up her sister Mary Ann Clarke — and her garbage — on Wednesday, and the two took their bags directly to the landfill. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

Sisters Mary Ann Clarke and Gerry Cobbett were tired of waiting for the city to pick up their garbage.

On Wednesday, Cobbett loaded her garbage into the back of her SUV and drove to her sister's Forest Hills home to pick up Clarke and her garbage.

Together, they drove to the Crane Mountain landfill.

Clarke's compost, however, is "out back in the yard because I can't stand the smell."

Nor can she stand the maggots that are feasting on the rotting material.

"We're hoping they'll come and pick it up, so we can wash out the [bin]."

WATCH | Residents take garbage matters into their own hands (literally):

As a retired union member, Clarke has sympathy for the striking workers.

But she doesn't think the inside workers should interfere with the outside workers' jobs.

On Wednesday, picketing inside workers agreed to allow one truck to cross the picket line every 35 minutes, although other picket lines slowed the trucks' arrival and departure from the landfill.
On Wednesday, picketing inside workers agreed to allow one truck to cross the picket line every 35 minutes, although other picket lines slowed the trucks' arrival and departure from the landfill.

On Wednesday, picketing inside workers agreed to allow one truck to cross the picket line every 35 minutes, although other picket lines slowed the trucks' arrival and departure from the landfill. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

About 140 clerical, administrative and support staff — members of CUPE Local 486 — went on strike two weeks ago over wages.

But it's the outside workers from CUPE Local 18 that look after garbage collection.

"This is Local 18 that's being held up by Local 486," Mayor Donna Reardon said Wednesday.

"Unions would be like a family," she said "And when one is in negotiations, others, I guess, come to their support. So that's what you're seeing there, basically."

Other unions don't have to cross lines

In fact, their contracts stipulate that workers not on strike don't have to cross picket lines.

So inside workers started blocking parked garbage trucks in earnest this week, Michael Hugenholtz, the city's commissioner of public works and transportation, said Wednesday morning as seven of the city's 10 garbage trucks were sitting idle on the side of Whitebone Lane in the McAllister Industrial Park.

On Monday, not a single truck was allowed to move, Hugenholtz said. On Tuesday, only three trucks were able to start their runs.

Later that day, the city announced a halt to all garbage collection, blaming "illegal strike activities" by the workers. The city had already suspended the collection of compost and recycling, a move announced on Sept. 18.

Michael Hugenholtz, the city’s commissioner of public works and transportation, on Wednesday morning as seven of the city’s 10 garbage trucks sat idle on the side of Whitebone Lane in the McAllister Industrial Park, blocked by picketing inside workers.
Michael Hugenholtz, the city’s commissioner of public works and transportation, on Wednesday morning as seven of the city’s 10 garbage trucks sat idle on the side of Whitebone Lane in the McAllister Industrial Park, blocked by picketing inside workers.

Michael Hugenholtz, the city’s commissioner of public works and transportation, speaking on Wednesday morning as seven of the city’s 10 garbage trucks sat idle on the side of Whitebone Lane in the McAllister Industrial Park. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

As striking workers upped their game this week, targeting and preventing garbage trucks from working, Hugenholtz said city officials had to try new tactics to try to keep the equipment moving.

"One is by having management move vehicles where necessary so they can access equipment and one is staging the equipment here basically on a public roadway, where it is prohibited by law to picket," he said.

"It has been a little bit of a cat and mouse game here over the last couple weeks. We're trying various tactics to try and stay ahead of them and make sure that we can continue to deliver services for the citizens. And they are, of course, trying to cause as much disruption and delay to our abilities as possible."

When strikers set up picket lines at city works depots, the city moved the equipment onto the street.

Hugenholtz said Saint John's general counsel has looked at the situation and said it's illegal to picket on a public roadway and to interfere with managers operating equipment.

In the first two weeks of the strike, Hugenholtz said, crews were able to pick up about 90 per cent or more of garbage, but that dropped drastically on Monday and Tuesday.

A Saint John garbage truck empties a homeowner's bin on Golden Grove Road on Wednesday.
A Saint John garbage truck empties a homeowner's bin on Golden Grove Road on Wednesday.

A Saint John garbage truck empties a homeowner's bin on Golden Grove Road on Wednesday. (Mia Urquhart/CBC)

On Wednesday, the striking union agreed to let one garbage truck through their line every 35 minutes.

"Now we do expect additional delays when it comes to emptying these at the end of the day," said Hugenholtz, not far from the parked trucks. "There are pickets established at the landfill as well, and it's taking up to an hour to get a truck in and out to get emptied out."

Hugenholtz said the city has received a number of complaints from residents about garbage piling up — particularly compost.

"We're also having issues with rodents and raccoons kind of getting into these garbage bags and tearing them apart. So there is a point at which it becomes a public health hazard. We're working hard to avoid that."

The advice from the city is for residents to put out their garbage on their regular collection day, "and if there are delays, and if it does get missed, that they just keep it at the curb.

"Because again, we're trying, either at night or the next day, to catch up, and if people start to bring it inside, we won't know where to collect from."

Michael Hugenholtz, the city’s commissioner of public works and transportation, speaks to a driver waiting to get through the picket line on Wednesday morning.
Michael Hugenholtz, the city’s commissioner of public works and transportation, speaks to a driver waiting to get through the picket line on Wednesday morning.

Michael Hugenholtz, the city’s commissioner of public works and transportation, speaks to a driver waiting to get through the picket line on Wednesday morning. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

In the meantime, when asked whether the city is considering asking for a court injunction, Hugenholtz said, "We're considering all options at this point in time."

The president of CUPE Local 486, meanwhile, said the city's claim of illegal strike action "is absolutely misleading."

"We have the legal right to picket any secondary location, any city asset, which would include the garbage trucks," said Brittany Doyle.

"I get that strikes are disruptive and there is frustrations that go along with that. But if you've been following the city social media page, there's been an overwhelming amount of support for our members."

Doyle said no date set has been set for the next meeting with city officials.