Photo via Baltimore DPW

Baltimore’s municipal trash crews have been heading home early on the clock or making overtime pay for hours they were already scheduled to work, a regular practice that the city’s inspector general said is costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

An investigation of the routes taken by the Solid Waste Bureau’s three-person trash crews found some workers would complete a route in six to eight hours or so but file for 10 on their timesheets. Other crews would work a full 10 hours, but count the last several hours as overtime. The Solid Waste Bureau is within the Department of Public Works.

Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming’s report cited one case, supported by GPS data, of workers heading out for trash-pickup duty around 6:30 a.m. and returning just after 2:30 p.m. They went home while logging 10 hours of paid time.

In another case, the report said, a crew finished a route at noon, then went out and did a second one and finished by 4 p.m., the normal end of the scheduled workday. Those workers earned overtime for the last four hours, even though their shift was supposed to end at 4 p.m.

The issue, Cumming said, lies with the “task work” system they’ve adopted under a memorandum of understanding between the city and the municipal workers’ union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal (AFSCME) Local 44. Under the MOU, workers are assigned routes or tasks daily—but management has interpreted it to mean that employees take exactly one route per day. Any other routes are eligible for overtime.

Cumming wrote that’s a costly read of the language.

“Management’s interpretation of the one task/route rule allowed the workers to get paid their normal hourly wage for their assigned 10-hour shift, then make 4 hours of overtime for the second route, even though the employees only worked a total of 10 hours. This interpretation by Management costs the City of Baltimore thousands of dollars in overtime pay.”

Cumming told Baltimore Fishbowl that the role of collecting the city’s refuse is “a difficult job and I believe they should be paid for doing the job.”

However, “no one should be paid for not working in Baltimore,” she said.

We’ve reached out to the union for comment.

DPW Director Rudy Chow responded in a letter to Cumming that “this system has been utilized for many years” and is incorporated into the city’s and union’s MOU.

He acknowledged some of the findings, noting, “Solid waste routes should not be completed too quickly,” and that workers hanging it up early could point to issues with mapping or that “crews were not diligent while performing their work” on those days.

He said he’s asked the head of the Solid Waste Bureau to procure software to improve efficiency: “I believe this software will address many of the issues in the timeliness of route completions.”

But DPW’s director of five years otherwise deferred to Baltimore Labor Commissioner Deborah Moore-Carter and City Solicitor Andre Davis about “the overall appropriateness of the task work system.”

Reached via email, Davis said he would defer to Moore-Carter on the report. A staffer at Moore-Carter’s office said she had already gone home for the day.

Under Cumming’s direction, the OIG has made a point of highlighting cases of time abuse and fraud by city workers.

Today’s report zeroing in on DPW also highlighted poor working conditions. Photos of a locker room at DPW’s Southeast Quadrant locker room at 6101 Bowley’s Lane showed out-of-service urinals, a dated-looking sink with no running water, a disabled alarm for a methane gas tank and an inoperable water fountain.

The report said staff told investigators valves for the methane gas tank hadn’t been released “in a very long time,” and that they were worried gases could be contributing to health issues at the facility. Staff said they turned off the water fountain “because it was allegedly contaminated.”

Cumming said the conditions there appear to violate OSHA regulations.

Chow called the issues “serious concerns.” He said DPW has gotten estimates from contractors for the repairs and is working with the Department of General Services to identify funding sources and a time to make the needed fixes.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...