IG alleges garbage workers loafing on the job

CHICAGO Investigators watched members of garbage pickup crews for 10 weeks and found they are loafing an average of 2 hours a day, and that is costing taxpayers money.

Union leaders are blasting the inspector general's report, calling it "a cheap shot" and a "witch hunt," set up for the purpose of justifying at least some of the city layoffs that are most certainly coming.

The inspector general says that is not true, that after years of spot-checking reported worker abuses, his investigators decided a year ago to launch a more thorough look at alleged job loafing in Streets and San. That was long before any layoff talk.

The bottom line, the inspector general says, is that the watched workers put in an average six hour day, got paid for eight, and the bosses bear the responsibility.

"We found some instances where crews would end two, three, sometimes even four hours before the shift, and then be observed not doing any work during that period of time," said David Hoffman, inspector general.

For 10 weeks, from May to September, in 10 wards, investigators ran eyeball and GPS surveillance on garbage truck drivers and laborers, 222 Streets and San employees in all. What they found were some long, leisurely lunches, occasionally running 90 minutes. Some workers would spend time sleeping in their cars. Others were just absent for long periods while they were swiped in and on the clock.

The inspector general says the waste and falsification is rampant. He wouldn't identify the 10 wards but says the problem is systemic -- most certainly citywide -- and is costing taxpayers roughly $14 million in lost wages.

"When you see excessive falsification in these wards, you have to ask, where were the supervisors?" said Hoffman.

The inspector general's findings have angered aldermen who are waiting to see how the mayor plans to handle a $400 million budget hole and hundreds of predicted layoffs.

"They need to find them now. Don't hesitate," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward.

Others say the report signals that the system of garbage pick up in Chicago, controlled on a ward-by-ward basis, needs to be changed.

"We need a grid system with a complete overhaul of how streets and sanitation operation operates," said Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd Ward.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Streets and San Commissioner Mike Picardi said he was appalled and deeply disturbed by the inspector general's findings.

"There can be no justification for drinking, sleeping and resting at home while on the city time. I want to send a clear message to all these employees included in this: You should worry about your job," Picardi said.

The inspector general says his department will recommend disciplinary action for those workers who filled out time sheets claiming they were at work when they were not. But for those who were at their work sites, just not doing any work, they're not recommending punishment.

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