Streets and Sanitation – Reduce the Number of Laborers on a Garbage Truck to 1

Savings: $19.4 million

On some of the City’s garbage trucks, the City assigns two laborers and one motor truck driver. The table below shows the City’s 2011 budgeted payroll and fringe benefits for garbage collection, excluding supervisory and clerical staff, and including savings


Budget Number of Full Time Equivalents

Current Annual Payroll

Fringe Benefits @ 35% of Salary

Total Compensation Costs

Sanitation Laborer





Motor Truck Driver





Supervisory and Clerical Staff















Note #1: Assumes that the health insurance and pension benefits of these employees are worth 35 percent of their salaries.
Note #2. This ignores additional costs due to overtime or savings due to personnel vacancies.
Note #3. Hourly positions are converted to full-time positions assuming 2,040 hours per year.

These employees are responsible for the weekly collection of garbage from 600,000 households along 350 daily routes. Until the last couple of years, the City generally assigned two laborers to each garbage truck. However, due to budget cuts, the City has reduced the number of budgeted sanitation laborers from 816 in 2008 to 631 in 2011.[1]


Under this option, the City would further reduce the number of laborers devoted to garbage collection, so that on average one laborer is assigned to each garbage truck. The City recently stated that it needs a relief laborer force of 15 percent of the total number of routes on its recycling trucks.[2]   Assuming that garbage collection needs the same relief percentage, with 350 collection routes the City would need 403 laborers to fully staff the 350 routes.[3]  This means that the number of laborers could be reduced by approximately 228.[4]


At an average compensation of $88,742, the total compensation of these 228 laborers in 2011 would equal $20.2 million. The 2012 compensation will be higher due to the Laborers’ collective bargaining agreement, which calls for a salary increase of 3.5% in 2012. Thus, the compensation for these 228 positions will cost $20.9 million in 2012.


These savings will be reduced because under the current collective bargaining agreement with the Laborers Union, sanitation laborers working on one-laborer garbage trucks are to be paid 9 percent more than their regular hourly rate.[5]  With 631 budgeted laborers and assuming 15 percent of these positions are a relief force, there are 536 laborer slots.  With 350 routes, that means 186 routes have two laborers and 164 routes have one laborer.  Instituting one-laborer trucks City-wide means that 186 additional laborers will need to be paid the 9 percent premium.  The premium would cost an additional $1.5 million in 2012.


After subtracting the reduced savings due to the increased pay for 1-person garbage trucks, the savings from implementing this option would be approximately $19.4 million in 2012.


Proponents might argue that the City no longer needs two laborers on a garbage truck because the trucks are now semi-automated, meaning garbage carts are lifted and dumped by a mechanism on the back of the trucks. They may also cite an OIG investigation in 2008 that found that garbage collection crews worked, on average, only 75 percent of the work day, indicating that there was not enough work for the collection crews to perform.[6] Others might argue that few cities have three staff assigned to each garbage truck. According to 2008 data from the International City/County Management Association’s (ICMA), among the six jurisdictions with over 500,000 people which submitted data only one (San Antonio) had 3 staff per garbage vehicle, and this is likely because collection is done manually. The other five jurisdictions (Phoenix, Miami-Dade County, Dallas, Austin, and Oklahoma City) all had 1 person per vehicle and automated or semi-automated collection.[7] Opponents might argue that reducing the number of laborers to one on all garbage trucks would reduce the quality of collection service in the City. They would argue that reducing the number of laborers could result in less frequent service as it takes trucks longer to perform their routes.


Additionally, others might argue that in addition to their collection responsibilities, laborers sweep alleys, pick up trash, or remove street-sweeping signs. Reducing the number of laborers would mean a reduction in these services.

Budget Details

Dept: Streets and Sanitation, 81 Bureau: Sanitation, 2020
Fund: Corporate Fund, 0100 Approp Code: Salaries and Wages, 0005
The appropriation is located on page 223 and the position schedule is on page 225 of the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.








[1] City of Chicago. “2008 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.” pg 224. Hours are converted to positions at rate of 2,040 hours per position.

[2] City of Chicago. Laborers Union Arbitration on Recycling Privatization. Exhibit 2 Cost Comparison.

In the recent arbitration regarding contracting the City’s recycling collection to private firms, the City submitted a cost comparison between Streets and Sanitation performing recycling and the private contractors’ bids that were submitted to the City.

[3] Relief force of 15 percent= 350 times .15= 53. 350+53=403

[4] 631 minus 403=228

[5] City of Chicago. “Collective Bargaining Agreement Between Locals 1001, 1092, and 76 of the Laborers International Union of North America and City of Chicago.” Section 11.7.2 pg. 88.

[6] City of Chicago. Office of Inspector General. “Waste and Falsification in the Bureau of Sanitation.” October 7, 2008.

[7] ICMA Center for Performance Measurement. “Comparative Performance Measurement: FY 2008 Data Report.” pg. 426