It's no secret that collecting garbage is a dirty, difficult and often dangerous job.
One small perk for Pittsburgh refuse workers is that they get to leave when they finish their routes, even if they haven't filled a full eight-hour shift. But that privilege is being chewed away by a policy change that followed a warning from the state.
State police and the Department of Environmental Protection notified the city last week that trucks exceeding the legal limit of 58,400 pounds would be cited. They did so after checking landfill records that showed some trucks were coming in over the limit.
The city responded by ordering all crews to stop about halfway through their routes and go to a landfill, a one-way trip of 15 to 20 miles. The trips take up to two hours, said Joseph Rossi, president of Teamsters Local 249, who is unhappy about the directive.
He believes the city could use extensive data collected over the years to be more selective about which routes need to make the extra landfill trips to stay within the weight limit.
William Klimovich, the assistant public works director who issued the directive, said the policy might be changed with time, but for now, he needs to be certain that no trucks are overweight.
"We're evaluating right now what needs to be done. Until that's determined, we have to make sure we're running legal on all routes," he said. Citations for overweight trucks carry a range of fines but "it's not unusual for them to go into the thousands of dollars," he said.
Mr. Rossi said the city is incurring extra fuel consumption and overtime costs by requiring extra landfill trips on every route. He said a truck can burn 10 gallons of diesel fuel traveling to and from the two landfills used by the city, one in Monroeville and the other in Findlay.
The policy also penalizes crews who work hard to finish their routes, each of which serves about 800 residences. "These guys take no lunches, no breaks. They work through the snow and the sleet, just like the mail," he said. "Some have second jobs to get to, some have wives who work and they need to get home to watch the kids."
Trucks are weighed entering and leaving the landfills, and if their garbage weighs more than 10 tons, they are considered overweight, Mr. Klimovich said. The city is exploring truck modifications that will reduce the amount of garbage that can be loaded onto the vehicles.
The new policy is not expected to delay collections beyond the normal pick up day.
The city generally does not limit the volume of garbage placed at curbside, except for grass clippings and bulk items like large appliances. It does not charge residents for collections.
Mr. Klimovich said added overtime and fuel costs are not significant, and will be offset by reduced wear-and-tear on trucks carrying lighter loads.
The city has about 170 refuse collectors who work on three-member crews that operate on 34 collection routes. The top wage is about $20 an hour, with time-and-a-half for overtime.
As for complaints about crews taking longer to complete their work, Mr. Klimovich said he tells all workers from the very start that "when you come here, expect to be here eight hours."
State police Cpl. Rick Koontz of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Division said the warning to the city was part of routine enforcement activities, and not related to the recent Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announcement of lower weight limits on about 1,000 bridges.
The 58,400-pound limit for three-axle trucks on state roads has been in effect for several decades, he said.