VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY/WFXR) — In Virginia Beach, if there was trash pick-up on Wednesday, it wasn’t much. The battle over hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to issues in Virginia Beach.
More than 110 Virginia Beach waste management workers protested Wednesday, Aug. 19, after they learned they wouldn’t be receiving hazard pay via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.
Waste management workers say they weren’t included on the city’s list of funding.
“Trash is what we do, it is not what we are. We are essential workers. We are on the front lines every day. We have been there since the virus started and even before that,” sanitation worker Alfred McClenny said.
The federal funding for hazard pay is supposed to be for workers who are consistently working in-person in areas that increase their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Virginia Beach is using $4.5 million of the more than $78.6 million it’s slated to receive in CARES funding mostly for public safety employees, which will receive between $1,000 and $2,000 in hazard pay depending on rank. Eligible employees in Health and Human Services will be given $1,500.
City officials say the majority of its workforce didn’t qualify, though some, including waste management employees, were classified separately as “emergency responders.” That classification made them ineligible for the CARES funding, city officials say.
However, other cities, including Portsmouth and Hampton, have allocated CARES funding for waste management employees. The City of Hampton responded to a request from 10 On Your Side Wednesday and said solid waste operators are frequently exposed to and required to handle waste materials that could contain coronavirus — which is why they’re included in hazard pay.
The various localities have each interpreted how to use the CARES Act funds differently.
New Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney, who came by to speak with the workers on Wednesday morning, sent a letter to City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 18, asking for hazard pay for waste management and other “critical workers,” but through another source — savings from a recent hiring freeze.
Under the plan, “emergency responders” would receive $1,000 and all other city employees who meet the criteria will receive $250. The city says 3,532 people will qualify for the one-time payment, which is expected to cost $1,887,105. The CARES funding was allocated to 2,273 employees.
Duhaney, who left quickly and didn’t speak with WFXR’s sister station, requested that the proposal be considered at the council’s Sept. 1 meeting.
Waste Management spokeswoman Kristi Rines called the hazard pay issue a “misunderstanding.”
“He was here because this was pretty much a misunderstanding. He wanted to listen to the drivers, and listen to the concerns they have,” she said.
The misunderstanding was those who don’t get the hazard pay from the federal CARES Act will get instead city funds totaling about $1,000 each for their efforts during these tough COVID-19 times.
“Well it’s a start, but it’s only the beginning. We are essential employees, we are on the frontlines. [We are] emergency employees and deal with hazardous materials on a daily basis,” said Sam Brown, a waste management collector.
McClenny had this message for the city: “Trash is what we do, it’s not who we are.”
“He wants to be working with us. He wanted us to know we can trust him. We are trying to get a commitment together that we will come together, and work on the solutions that are at hand,” McClenny said.
The city says recycling services will still be provided Wednesday and that once trash pickup resumes, neighborhoods will be serviced on a sliding schedule.
Brown said workers will come in Thursday, Aug. 20, and “see where we go from there.”
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