Pittsburgh sanitation workers walk out over lack of protective equipment

Pittsburgh sanitation workers walk out over lack of protective equipment
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Sanitation workers in Pittsburgh walked off the job Tuesday, demanding protective gear to continue working amid the coronavirus pandemic, the spread of which has shut down nonessential services in cities throughout the country.

Sanitation worker Fitzroy Moss livestreamed the walkout Wednesday morning on his Facebook page, garnering about 15,000 views in three hours.

“Here we are at my job. Ain’t picking up no rub,” Moss said in the video, in which he claims that two workers have tested positive. “The rubbish is sitting there. That’s all they care about is picking up the garbage. They don’t even care about our health.”

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Moss says in the livestream that the workers were asked to sign a form affirming they had been tested for the virus even though had not.

Workers blockaded the entrances and exits to the parking lot of the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services for 90 minutes while demanding hazard pay and improved protective equipment such as face masks.

“Everybody needs to know what goes on in this department,” sanitation worker Tom Foley told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’re kind of taken for granted because they don’t have to call for us like they have to call for the fire and police. We just show up and do our job.”

Workers also called for an additional set of work boots and better gloves, saying they are only given two pairs of boots per year. The kind of gloves currently offered by the bureau do not protect workers' hands from liquids, leaving most employees to purchase their own surgical gloves since the outbreak began.

The workers are also demanding a meeting with Mayor Bill Peduto (D), who said last week that trash would be picked up no matter what, a claim they said was made without consulting them.

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Around 7:50 a.m., workers were sent home with pay and told by union representatives to report back Thursday morning at 5:30, a local CBS affiliate reported.

In a statement on Wednesday, Peduto's office said that the city has followed all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols and that the form in question was a checklist for workers to ensure they did not have symptoms of the virus.

Officials added that the wife of a worker had tested positive and that the couple had both been quarantined and were asymptomatic.

“Environmental Services workers are on the front lines of the City’s pandemic response and are performing a great public service to their fellow residents. We all need to come together in this time of need, and to continue supporting the personnel – including police, medics, firefighters and others – who are protecting us at this time,” Peduto said in the statement.

The Hill has also reached out to Teamsters Local 249, which represents the city’s sanitation workers, for comment.

--This report was updated at 1:13 p.m.