Large number of failed drug tests led to trash pile up

WCA 900,000 services per week delayed

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Many metro neighborhoods have been put at risk for months by garbage truck drivers who failed drug tests.

After numerous complaints about missing trash pick ups throughout the metro, the 41 Action News Investigators were able to get answers.

Garbage collection company Waste Corporation of America, or WCA, told the 41 Action News Investigators they had a very unpleasant surprise when they bought out Town and Country in October.

WCA spokesman Tom Coffman said there was a significant gap in required federal testing of drivers.

When the U.S. Department of Transportation demanded the drivers' status reports from WCA, the DOT found those reports were well overdue for an update and ordered WCA to complete new testing in six weeks.

The results showed more than half the drivers failed.

When those drivers were fired, trash started piling up around Kansas City.

One of the places where it happened was in the upscale neighborhood in Brookside's Armour Fields Homes Association.

HOA Vice-president John Murphy came home from vacation to find uncollected trash piled up for days throughout his neighborhood for the second time.

"I'm like what in the name of goodness is going on here," he said.

Murphy called City Hall and contacted his councilman's office. But he said his complaints went nowhere.

"It's absolutely infuriating," Murphy said. "You call down there, they ask you to pay taxes, we have to pay their taxes. We ask them to take our trash out and when they can't get it done, they don't want to lift a phone to get anything done."

Instead, Murphy met with WCA himself.

A copy of the contract between WCA and KCMO shows the city pays the company more than $5.8 million a year to take care of more than 94,000 dwelling units in the south and north parts of Kansas City.

With trash, recycling and yard waste, Coffman said the company does roughly 900,000 residential services a week in the metro.

During that meeting, Murphy found out more than half of WCA's garbage truck drivers were let go.

Coffman confirmed to the 41 Action News Investigators many of those drivers failed drug tests, wouldn't take them or failed the company's own rigorous standards.

To fill the gap, WCA brought in drivers from outside the community.

Murphy even lent a hand.

He put the company in contact with the Urban League to help hire new drivers.

"Kansas City has a great work force," Murphy said. "In fact on the east side, we've got a huge unemployment rate; that would be a perfect spot to go."

Due to Murphy's initiative, Coffman and Urban League President Gwen Grant confirm WCA and the Urban League have started a new relationship.

Grant said she expects WCA will take part in an upcoming job fair September 20. She also said the Urban League may develop a training program for potential drivers.

A statement from KCMO said in part the company has clearly fallen short of expectations due to the staffing issues.

The city also apologized and said homeowners should leave trash out because crews are coming late to catch up.

They're finally caught up in Murphy's neighborhood thanks in part to his meeting with the company.

"We'll just keep an eye on it in the future, but again, you know this should be handled at City Hall, not in the neighborhoods," Murphy said.

Coffman said it's a constant battle to train and keep garbage truck drivers.

To help in that goal, WCA increased its compensation package 25 to 30 percent and also began offering health insurance for drivers.

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Andy Alcock can be reached at anderson.alcock@kshb.com.

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