CUPE 3034 President Terry-Lynn Cooper and Corey Mitchell.Karin Jordan CUPE Communications

Workers in the town of Conception Bay South, NL, are welcoming a move to automated garbage pickup. The new trucks mean safer working conditions for the solid waste crew, members of CUPE 3034. Ending garbage privatization was the first step in improving safety for the workers.

“What a difference, working for the town. It’s all about safety,” says Corey Mitchell, a member of the solid waste crew. “Collecting garbage is dirty, dangerous work. Automation makes that job much safer,” says Mitchell, who worked for the contractor before the town brought solid waste services back in house in 2012, ending 30 years of unreliable and expensive service.

Bringing the work in house made it easier to tackle health and safety issues, but workers lifting tons of garbage a day still faced hazards.

The local has kept injuries high on the agenda at labour-management and joint occupational health and safety committee meetings, says CUPE 3034 President Terri-Lynn Cooper. When the town bought one automated truck, the local worked to speed up a full switch to automation.

“Council decided they were going to do it over a long period - a couple of years, but we kept pushing,” says Cooper. The town agreed, and pickup has been fully automated since the fall of 2019.

Cooper says it was a high priority because of workplace injuries “like back, arm, and knee injuries, as well as injuries from sharp things in the garbage, like needles. It was happening regularly.”

Mitchell says wasp nests and rodents were just some of the hazards he faced opening the wooden boxes where residents left garbage for pickup. Several years ago, broken glass in a garbage bag left him with a gash in his leg that took eight stitches to close.

Now, residents wheel large plastic garbage bins to the curb. Mitchell doesn’t touch the bags inside. Instead, he operates an arm from inside the truck that grabs and empties the bin into the truck. “I remember days when I was throwing 14 tons. Now, that arm is throwing it for you,” he says.

The truck’s camera and bin-tracking technology let him communicate with residents when a bin isn’t put out properly for pickup, helping build an understanding of the new system. 

Slips and falls in icy winter conditions aren’t an issue anymore, he says. “You’re not getting out of the truck. You’re not crossing roads and rough terrain to get to a garbage box,” says Mitchell. 

Cooper says the local is committed to making sure the contracted in service succeeds. 

“Once it’s in house, your work is just beginning. We’re keeping on top of issues and making it work,” she says. 

As the face of the service, the in-house crew is a major asset for the town, says Cooper.  

“They are really part of the community. It’s amazing, people don’t realize how much they are in touch with everyone and the day to day contact they have with residents,” she says. 

With the town looking to increase recycling rates after bringing curbside recycling pickup in house two years ago, Cooper says CUPE 3034 members will have a key role to play.  

“The crew are the people who can have those conversations with the residents.”