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Labor shortage creates headache for garbage collectors, residents
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Red Oak Sanitation is experiencing severe labor shortages as it tries to get more automated trucks in service. - photo by Scott Rogers

Some Hall County residents have seen delays in getting their trash picked up lately while one of the county’s biggest sanitation service providers, Red Oak Sanitation, is struggling to find workers. 

Owner Stub Luce said they’ve had shortages at all positions.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s inside customer service or outside on the trucks.”

The issues have been ongoing nearly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Luce said, and recent months haven’t been any different from the larger trend. But colder weather can make it more difficult to hire people. 

“You think about all these fast food restaurants or what have you, they’re working inside under the roof with the air conditioning on and they can’t find help,” he said. “So for us to find help to ride on the back of this truck when it’s 25 degrees out or 32 degrees and raining — it’s almost impossible to find an employee to do that.”

To adapt to the staffing shortage, Red Oak has ordered more automated vehicles, which require only a driver rather than an additional employee or two to grab trash.

But because of supply issues they are still waiting for trucks. Luce said he expects to have two more trucks in January and two in March. It takes six to eight months to get new trucks, and about 60-65% of their 50 trucks are automated, he said. 

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A Red Oak Sanitation garbage bin sits alongside a Hall County neighborhood Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Red Oak Sanitation is experiencing severe labor shortages as they try and get more automated trucks in service. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Our goal is to not leave a route for more than a day,” he said. “So if we missed you on a Monday, we’re going to be there on a Tuesday.”

Red Oak also notified customers over this past weekend that rates would increase. Caitlin Tangren, who has been a customer for more than 10 years, said Red Oak had missed some pick-up days in recent months. Her rates rose about 33% this past weekend, from $30 to $40. 

“My issue is, they're citing lack of labor and the cost of gas as the cause of the price increase, but they're upgrading their equipment to run with less people, which will save them so much money in the long run,” Tangren said. “I understand even a temporary price increase as they adjust, but charging customers more, permanently, while services have drastically gone downhill, is backwards to me.”

Luce said the increase is caused by increased costs at the Hall County landfill, recycling station rate increases, equipment costs and the increased cost of diesel fuel.

Another problem is they can’t over-staff on a day-to-day basis, Luce said, meaning that if anybody gets sick or has something unexpected come up they’ll be short-handed that day. It’s rare they have 100% of staff available on a given day, he said. 

“We would like to hire four more drivers and eight more helpers for the back of the trucks plus a cart delivery person,” he said. 

They have not raised wages significantly to attract new workers, Luce said, but they have added incentives to retain current employees. The starting salary for garbage truck workers is a little over $40,000 a year, he said.

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