Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner announced Friday, May 22 the city’s garbage collection services would be temporarily halted due to a public works employee testing positive for COVID-19. He confirmed Tuesday, May 26 that services had been restarted.
“We hope and pray citizens will be patient,” Gardner said. “Some services will be shut down temporarily.”
At a press briefing in front of the A.J. Cooper Municipal Complex, Gardner told reporters the entire department has been shut down while all 25 employees are being tested for the disease. If those tests come back negative, garbage collection could continue early next week.
“In this process we’ve had one day of service missed — today,” Gardner said. “We’re hoping that with the weekend and Monday being a holiday that we’ll get test results back and be back to work as early as Tuesday.”
While employees are being quarantined, Gardner said the city will disinfect and sanitize the department’s facilities and equipment in hopes of stopping the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, Gardner wouldn’t say if any other employees had tested positive for COVID-19.
Prichard City Councilman Lorenzo Martin said he had not heard about the garbage service being suspended until he was contacted by a Lagniappe reporter Friday afternoon. After some thought, Martin said it was “unacceptable” to halt garbage service. Instead, he suggested going back to private service for a short period of time. He added his top concern at the moment is the working conditions of public works employees.
While Gardner assured reporters city employees were wearing masks and other personal protective equipment, Martin said he hasn’t noticed masks being worn by public works employees. He’s also claimed one public works employee told him drivers are swapping between garbage trucks and those trucks aren’t being sanitized between uses.
“My greatest concern is with the working conditions of public works employees,” Martin said. “If they haven’t been keeping six feet apart or haven’t been sanitizing frequently used surfaces and there has been more than one person in a truck, that’s a problem. Those measures have to be put in place.”
At the press conference, Gardner also advocated for hazard pay for police, firefighters and other city employees on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hazard pay would be equivalent to time and a half, he said.
“I think that’s going to be a great help,” Gardner said. “Our first responders should be paid over and above for their work.”
Currently first responders are keeping track of their time as if they are already working for time and a half, Gardner said.
Martin said the council is “engaged” on hazard pay and is willing to work with the mayor on a pay increase, bonus or other incentives.
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