August 21st, 2013 | Aaron Mesh News | Posted In: City Hall, CLEAN UP, Health, Housing

Inmate Work Crews Won't Pick Up Hypodermic Needles Left Behind at Sidewalk Campsites

And a city union wants Portland to stop using prison labor.

inmatephotoMultnomah County jail inmates remove property from outside City Hall. - Andrea Damewood

Mayor Charlie Hales keeps hitting roadblocks with the Multnomah County inmate crews clearing out homeless camps on the sidewalks.

WW reported in this morning's Murmurs that the inmate work crews forced to clean up city sidewalks after Hales’ sweep of the homeless have balked at picking up hypodermic needles left behind by drug addicts.

Documents obtained by WW through a public records request show the mayor’s office exchanged emails earlier this month with Kate Wood, the city risk manager, seeking someone to pick up the needles, called sharps.

Wood replied that the city’s janitorial contractor, PHC Northwest, would collect the sharps—but wouldn’t handle the required biowaste disposal.

"The sharps and needles are put into containers that must be disposed of as biowaste," Wood wrote on Aug. 9. "PHC does not do that."

Hales’ office expressed frustration.

“If we can find the right contract to piggyback,” Hales policy director Noah Siegel wrote Wood, “it does seem possible for PHC to pick up as long as we throw it away. Good lord.”

Meanwhile, new Portland Bureau of Transportation director Leah Treat wrote the offices of Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick the same day—warning that the District Council of Trade Unions might raise the price tag on the cleanup work.

"I just learned that DCTU has filed a grievance claiming purview of the work the inmate crews are doing," Treat wrote. "Arbitration has been set for sometime in September. The outcome of that process may alter things dramatically, especially in terms of cost."

Megan Hise, spokeswoman for city employees seeking a new contract, says the DCTU has an ongoing grievance regarding the city's use of inmate labor.

But she says Laborer's Local 483, a portion of DCTU, has specifically told the city it wants no part of homeless clean-ups.

"We didn't feel comfortable with our members doing that work," Hise says. "We don't want our members exposed to that liability. Also, this is an issue of social concern, and we think the people doing this work should be trained, with resources to connect people to."

 
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