Labor Market Woes Hit Jax Trash Pickup

Jun 29, 2021

Jacksonville-area residents from Orange Park to Murray Hill are reporting yard waste and recycling is piling up on curbs as a labor shortage in the waste industry is impacting trash pickup across the First Coast. 

“I've had bags of yard waste sitting out for more than a month now,” one are resident said in response to a social media call-out from WJCT News. “My driveway is now literally stained from the bags sitting on it so long but I'm afraid that if I bring the bags into my garage I'll miss the pickup.”

“Sometimes they take my recycling, sometimes they don't,” said one respondent in the Arlington area. “Sometimes they just don't come at all. I end up having to find a dumpster to go dump my recycling if more than two weeks pass and they haven't picked it up.”

“I'm sure they're doing the best they can,” said another respondent. “There are help wanted signs everywhere. I appreciate them doing a job not many want to do.”

Related: Some Northern St. Johns County Residents See Yard Waste Pickup Delays

The problem has attracted the attention of local officials, with Jacksonville City Council Member Rory Diamond tweeting recently, “We are aware there are serious problems with trash pickup. The vendors are having problems getting people to work and are trying any incentive they can. We are working with them to get trucks sent to high priority areas. Fully agree with your frustrations.” 

Orange Park resident Craig Lee shared with WJCT a response he received from the Clay County government regarding delayed yard waste pickup. The response, which was unsigned, read, 

“Regrettably the waste management industry is experiencing a significant labor shortage.  Our local contractor, Advanced Disposal/Waste Management is currently staffed at 60% of their normal complement.  This is not just affecting Clay County, but it is a national issue affecting several other service industries including restaurants and hotels.  The Solid Waste Association of North America, which is the national trade organization for the public sector (cities and counties) has recommended temporarily ceasing a service (like yard waste) until the labor shortage is over.  We have resisted ceasing any service, but we are continually falling behind with yard waste.  Rest assured that the County Manager and Commission are keenly aware of the circumstances as they are briefed every day.”

Clay County spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter said the county is borrowing trucks from Green Cove Springs, which does its own trash pickup instead of contracting. She also said the county was bringing in five trucks from a debris contractor out of Gainesville to help get caught up. 

“We’re asking for patience,” Winter said. “We know it’s unsightly and inconvenient, but we’re working on it.”

In a recent report on the labor shortage, industry group SWANA said some causes of waste industry worker shortages include competition from the burgeoning trucking industry, an aging workforce, and more stringent requirements for truck drivers at the national level. 

SWANA also said the COVID-19 pandemic has also made it harder for waste companies to attract workers, due to increased residential waste; lack of affordable childcare requiring employees to stay at home; and extended unemployment benefits and stimulus checks that provide disincentives for workers to return to the workforce.

Waste Management spokeswoman Dawn McCormick said she thinks Florida’s ending its expanded unemployment benefits would encourage people back to work. 

“To attract new team members, including in Clay County, Waste Management has significantly increased wages for full-time drivers and technicians along with temporary workers, and is offering signing bonuses for some job categories,” McCormick said. “In addition, Waste Management is now offering employees ‘Your Tomorrow’ education benefits which pay full tuition for team members seeking undergraduate degrees and certificate programs.  This outstanding educational benefit will be extended to team members’ spouses and children later this year.”

Waste Management and the Clay County government say taxpayers won’t have to pay for the extra costs. 

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.