Employees of the city’s garbage service abuse overtime, sick time and paid time off, according to a city audit of the Department of Environmental Services bulky item collection service.

The audit, conducted by the Office of the City Auditor, was prompted by complaints of untimely pickups, illegal dumping and residents who put out bulky items — larger trash items like furniture and mattresses — on the wrong days.

The audit also found that the department which oversees the city’s trash pickup program, doesn’t have the resources to check for violations of bulky collection rules.

During the course of almost two years, 21 employees each took on average 23 days of unpaid leave. Eighty percent of the city’s 122 manual collection employees took a combined total of 2,227 days of sick leave — an average of almost 22 days per person over the course of a year.

A Honolulu garbage truck picks up refuse in 2014. Department of Environmental Services

During the same period, 153 employees were paid $1.7 million in overtime, more than $11,000 per worker on average,  for the collection of bulky and white goods, which are household appliances like washing machines and refrigerators.  Half of the top ten overtime earners worked at the Pearl City refuse yard, with the top earner  making $75,570.

“Employees calling in sick cause bulky collection routes to be done late, on overtime, or not at all,” the audit concluded.

The audit also found that trash that should have been put in refuse, recycling and green waste bins was often left out on the streets. Residents are only informed of the rules if they violate the bulky item pickup rules, according to the audit.

The majority of the 316 complaints received by the Department of Customer Services during a one-year period were for illegal dumping and improper placement of bulky items. More than a third of calls were complaints about missed or late pickups.

The audit blamed staffing shortages and outdated union agreements for “untimely (trash) collections and excessive overtime.” The memorandum-of-agreement with the union states employees finish the equivalent of an eight-hour work day after collecting two full loads. Every collection beyond that limit earns employees four hours of overtime pay.

The auditors’ recommended that the environmental services department renegotiate MOAs with the union, redraw pickup boundaries to better balance out service to busier and slower areas, discipline employees who abuse time off, and review staffing levels and needs.

ENV officials were unavailable Tuesday afternoon and deferred to its comments in the audit.

The department agreed that union MOAs are restrictive and acknowledged problems with excessive sick leave. ENV has its own “Sick Leave Abuse Program” that tracked nine bulky item pickup workers and disciplined one for abusing sick leave, the department said.  It also agreed to “take a stricter approach” with employees that take leave without any accrued leave left.

ENV agreed with many of the auditor’s recommendations, including reassessing staffing levels and reevaluating bulky pickup routes. The department also noted it’s considering an on-call, fee-based system for picking up bulky items.

Read the full audit, with comments from the ENV, below:

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