Talking Trash: Amwaste vows to fix problems, discusses staffing, other issues they are facing

Published 8:25 am Wednesday, July 13, 2022

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Only one local topic has received more watercooler talk than how Alabama and Auburn will look on the football field this year — the inefficiency of trash collection in Chambers County and West Point.  Much of the discussion centers around late collection, or missed collection, lengthy delays receiving cans, and long wait times when calling customer service.

Amwaste officials say service standards are on the mend, and they believe they are working to solve the issues they are currently facing.

Amwaste COO Randy Lee said two of the company’s most significant obstacles have been the national shortage of CDL qualified drivers and supply chain issues. The lack of qualified drivers specifically has resulted in staffing issues.

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According to the American Trucking Association, the industry has struggled against shortages for nearly 20 years. The impact has resulted in Amwaste moving some of its management team into trucks and out on routes while they work to fill positions. Even Lee has been running routes.

To combat the staffing issues, Lee said the company has recently partnered with a couple of recruiting firms to help bridge the gap Amwaste faces with drivers.

“There’s a national shortage of CDL qualified drivers,” Lee said. “What we’ve done there [is], we have six people onboarding. It’s the most we’ve had at one time just for this East Alabama operation.”

Cal Franklin, director of governmental affairs for Amwaste, said even with the six people currently onboarding, getting those drivers in trucks could take several weeks.

“It takes about two, sometimes three weeks to get personnel hired because you go through drug screening, background checks, [and] make sure they have a CDL,” Franklin said.

Lee said that time does not include the time it takes to train drivers.

In a perfect world, Lee said the East Alabama operation should have 11 trucks in operation. The East Alabama operation consists of Randolph County, Roanoke, Valley, Lanett, Chambers County and West Point.

Franklin said another issue that has impacted staffing is the recent temperatures that have exceeded 100 degrees and resulted in some workers to quit in the middle of routes.

Regarding supply chain hiccups, Franklin said finding parts to repair down vehicles has been an issue, and inflation has compounded the problems. Oftentimes, Amwaste has to send someone hundreds of miles away to retrieve parts needed. To add insult to injury, the company said fuel has not only impacted its budget but also contributed to the delays in cart delivery. Carts are made of resin generated from petroleum refineries.

Lee said the company has split the East Alabama operations to a separate phone bank to better handle call volumes in this area. That was a move Lee said he did not necessarily want to make, but he felt it needed to happen to serve this area better.

“I didn’t want to split out East Alabama and Georgia, but I had to get a feel for … we’re having all these complaints to social media, Facebook combined, [people] trying to get through and deal with those. When you can talk to the customer, you can fix it,” Lee said.

The company also employs a tool called CallFire that allows them to make robocalls to customers who are late paying bills or notify people on a specific route of any potential service delays.

While the company admits to having issues that snowballed all at once, it says things are moving positively.

Despite complaints from county residents, Chambers County recently signed a new agreement with Amwaste that begins Aug. 1 and includes an increased rate. Franklin said the rate increase is necessary to account for the 8.5% rise in inflation. Franklin also said the contract has provisions to which the cost can be recalculated annually based on the consumer price index. Amwaste was the only company that submitted a bid, and the commission voted in favor of continuing as its waste management company.

The City of Valley has also experienced high volumes of complaints and has put out an invitation to bid on the trash collection service and during Monday’s city council meeting Planning & Development director Travis Carter told the mayor and council there were five parties interested in the contract.

In Lanett, Mayor Jamie Heard issued a statement to the citizens of Lanett on Monday, June 27, that read,

“The City of Lanett sincerely apologize[s] for the missed and delayed household trash pickup. The entire city staff, including myself and members of the council, are working on a solution to this problem. We are very aware that this is major. Amwaste, our garbage service provider, assures us that the problems of staff shortages, equipment failure and other factors are being aggressively addressed and that these issues will be remedied and your regularly scheduled pickup dates will soon be reinstated. Our hope is that your confidence in us will be restored. We will provide you with updates as soon as they become available.”

Both Franklin and Lee attended the Chambers County Commission meeting Monday, along with district manager Michael Cosman, where they heard complaints from community members Bill Creech and Mike Hunt, as well as the commission. All three promised that the issues are being aggressively worked on and that they feel that in the past week things have been turning around. They assured the citizens they were making the necessary investments into improving their overall service.

Cosman said he was glad that Creech and Hunt spoke up and acknowledged that everyone is having an issue and this has been the worst he has seen since he has been in the waste

“I’ve been doing this for 32 years,” Cosman said. “Last month was the worst month I’ve ever had in the garbage business.”

Amwaste says it plans to remain invested in improving the service they provide to the East Alabama area. Franklin said they are all caught up as of Tuesday and hope to stay caught up.

Commission Chair Debra Riley urges the community to remain in contact with them and report any service issues that arise.

“I would say to our citizens, keep us posted,” Riley said. “Keep us posted on how things are going, and we hope that those calls reduce greatly.”