By continuing to care for your employees, serve your customers the best you can and, most of all, stay true to the passion that you drew from your vision when you first started your company or manager role, the industry will come through this challenging time stronger and more united than before.
By Paul Ross

Everyone knows that 2020 had its share of challenges—from the pandemic affecting operations to keeping business flowing consistently, to keeping staff safe. During that unusual time, American Waste Control made sure to take precautions as necessary, including changing some operations at the office to keep administration staff distant while they were clocking in, dispatching, etc. The last thing you want is to spread COVID-19 amongst your workers and then have a situation where you can’t operate. We also enhanced our sanitation measures. When COVID started to break out in Tulsa, we didn’t feel the effects of it in our company until November 2020. Some of the surrounding cities who worked with small haulers would call them and inquire about their plan if they were affected by COVID, so, in turn, those haulers called us and asked if we could pick up their route if employees became sick. Kenny, our owner, told our competitors that we would help them out as needed due to operations issues. It was an interesting time.

American Waste Control residential crew.

It was also a great learning experience, and we are all the better as a result. The constant theme we had for the last year was not to give up. I told our drivers—these guys I had always hugged when they come in at the end of the day—that you may be one of the only constants for our customers. These families are home, these businesses that are shut down or may be at limited capacity, so it’s important for people to see that regularity. We would see messages of hope from customers on recycle and trash cans or even on the sidewalks in chalk, thanking us for continuing to have the service during the pandemic. That was inspiring, and it was just encouraging for our workers, telling them not to give up.

We did give our employees COVID bonuses as a thank you for working so hard during one of the most difficult periods in our lifetime. It was incredible and we’re thankful that we made it out better than we were. We had one or two incidents of COVID positives at the beginning of February or March 2020, when it picked up. Still, it did not spread in our company until November, when we suddenly had about a dozen people test positive—most of them in the office, including our owner. Prior to that, we had one or two who tested positive, so we isolated them for a couple of weeks as a precaution. Everyone was working to stay safe and do the right thing.

American Waste Control residential driver standing beside his truck.

We have always been a clean and sanitized industry because when dealing with the types of materials we handle, you have to keep your equipment and trucks sanitized, even multi-surface areas (like time clocks), etc. so that will remain clean. We have opened the office back up and everyone is glad to be back in. We have allowed our current drivers to come in and debrief with their dispatcher face-to-face safely. In June, we had our first safety meeting back indoors since February 2020. It was held in our conference room with a big monitor. Previously, we had held our meetings outdoors to remain socially distant; we were hindered on the technology side, so our team was short on OSHA topics, driver topics, etc. We offered masks to everyone who wanted one and I personally sanitized all of the chairs and desks before and after each meeting. It was good to get everyone back in that room, back into some sense of normalcy. We hired so many new people over the last year that this was the first time they had seen that part of the office. With a PowerPoint covering safety and other relevant topics, they got a taste of the culture of safety at American Waste Control before the pandemic.

I believe that the pandemic has affected the workforce hiring and labor shortage. Recruitment and retaining have always been so important to what we do here at American Waste Control. Our employees stay around for a long time; they love to work for Kenny. We treat our people very well, offering a great benefits package and competitive pay. It is a great place to work. The pandemic saw the importance of the commercial licensed driver and helpers on the back of the truck. It was very competitive from a labor standpoint to get workers, especially when you are competing with people who are getting unemployment benefits they need to survive the pandemic. However, we’ve seen a corner turned. We work with a recruitment company through our HR department. When hauling companies are having a hard time filling specific job roles, I recommend using a staffing company or a temp agency that understands the industry, knows your lingo, the hours, the pay rate and the job descriptions. If you have a partner like this, it will be a little easier to retain people. We continued to hire during the pandemic. We performed zoom interviews as needed or would interview in the conference room with HR and socially distanced with masks; it was challenging.

This is a picture of a message of hope and encouragement our drivers and helpers would often receive on their route during the 2020 pandemic.

During this weird time in our history right now, my message to other haulers is this—“Don’t give up.” Continue caring for your employees, serving your customers the best you can and, most of all, stay true to the passion that you drew from your vision when you first started your company or manager role. We will come through this thing stronger and more united than before. | WA

Paul M. Ross is the Vice President of American Waste Control (Tulsa, OK). Having been a part of the waste business since 1999, he is also a Board of Governors Representative for the National Waste and Recycling Association. He leads the day-to-day operations of AWC’s fleet of 185 trucks. He also works on AWC’s recycling initiative with Mr. Murph in North Tulsa, as well as the company’s renewable energy landfill, American Environmental Landfill in Sand Springs. Paul has been very involved in AWC’s initiatives to promote sustainability throughout the Tulsa area. Paul is involved in the community as well. He is the President of the board for the Tulsa Christmas Parade, as well as a founding board member of the American Therapeutic Riding Center in Sand Springs. In his free time, Paul enjoys spending time with his five children and supporting what sport or activity they are involved in. Currently, Paul attends Woodlake Church in Glenpool, where he is an active member. He can be reached at (918) 446-0023 or e-mail [email protected].

To view a video Paul produced for employees and customers of American Waste Control with the message, “Don’t Give Up”, during the beginning of COVID, visit