Healthcare workers. Restaurateurs and grocers. Police officers and firefighters. These occupations have been widely publicized as being on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 outbreak. One essential industry, however, continuing to do its part in the viral battle is considered quite literally at the bottom of the barrel: the garbage collector.
The waste collection and disposal industry in the U.S. comprises more than 467,000 employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Workers in the industry are facing unique challenges as the coronavirus disease progresses. And in the Berkshires, those challenges are no different.
Roger Trucking Waste Removal & Recycling Services has already had to lay off a few of its employees, according to Robert W. Brownson, owner of the Great Barrington-based business. With the closure of several non-essential businesses, the need for daily trash removal has been reduced to a lesser frequency, he said. “It’s a huge financial hit to the garbage man,” said Brownson. “I have accounts with motels, restaurants and big complexes that are closed or have skeleton crews. And even though they can cut back, my truck payment doesn’t change. My fuel bill doesn’t change. My insurance company bill doesn’t change. … all of my expenses still occur. It’s a massive hit.”
Initially, Carmen Barbato Inc. saw a slowdown in its traffic at the transfer station, but this past week, it ramped back up, according to Mary Barbato, vice president of marketing and communications for the Hillsdale, New York-based business that provides services to Columbia County, New York as well as south county towns. Currently, Barbato says the company has not had to lay off any of its staff, although some office staff are working from home. She did note that the business has seen an increase in new customers for residential pick-up services since the virus was first announced.