City trash delays, worker shortage rack up millions in overtime costs

You’re paying more and getting less — that’s what it comes down to when dealing with the city’s trash pickup services.

For the past few weeks, trash pickup service in the Honolulu area has been delayed multiple times. The city says there’s been a shortage of workers, so trash collectors have not been able to finish their routes.

KHON2 looked into this and learned that the city is projected to pay nearly $4 million in overtime this year– and that some workers are making more in overtime than their salaries.

We spoke with the city council’s budget chairwoman Ann Kobayashi about this and she said it’s worrisome and that she’s never seen anything like this.

Kobayashi said the Council is getting “lots of complaints. It’s surprising.”

Full trash bins have been out on curbs for days as collection falls behind. The city said that because of the shortage of workers, crews wind up emptying the trash bins a day or two later, which means more overtime.

Of the nearly $4 million the city will pay refuse workers in overtime this year, more than half of it will go to workers in the Honolulu Base Yard, and another $1.3 million to workers in Pearl City.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen a problem with the trash pickup and yet we’re paying so much in overtime,” said Kobayashi.

Trash collectors have a salary of $40,000 to $50,000 a year. Some of them, however, will make in excess of $70,000 to $80,000 in overtime, that puts their total earnings to well over six figures.

This does not sit well with residents who are already unhappy with trash pickup delays.

“They should make better use of our money,” said Aina Koa resident Edwin Kimura. “We’re taxpayers, so we should get the services we deserve.”

“It’s not fair,” said an East Honolulu resident who wished to remain anonymous. “We pay our taxes and they should pick it up.”

KHON2 asked the city if the director of the Dept. of Environmental Services Department Lori Kahikina could talk on camera about this, but a spokesman said she would only be available via email.

Kobayashi said she couldn’t understand why the city has not filled the positions. “I don’t know where it’s advertised that these jobs are available, but wherever it is, whatever is being done, maybe we have to double that effort,” she said.

She added that overtime money could be better spent on maintaining our parks and our roads.

“In order to cut back, you don’t want to fire people, or cut back on services, but we can cut back on things like overtime,” Kobayashi said.

KHON2 wanted to get answers on how many more workers are needed and how this year’s overtime numbers compare to previous years. We got an email late this afternoon from the city’s spokesman saying he won’t be able to provide those answers until Monday.

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