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ST. LOUIS – In August, things were so bad with the ongoing worker shortage that the city started offering $3,000 bonuses for new garbage truck drivers. 

On Wednesday, there were no overflowing dumpsters in the Lalite Avenue alley in North St. Louis as a garbage truck made its rounds.     

Flashback to two months ago in The Hill neighborhood in South St. Louis when it seemed like an art form for garbage truck drivers to keep overloaded dumpsters from spilling and missing the target.   

Nearly a third of the jobs in the city’s Refuse Division were vacant then, about 30 openings. 

That’s not the case anymore.  

“We do still have a handful of positions left in the Refuse Division,” said Nick Dunne, a spokesman for Mayor Tishaura Jones. “We’re going to continue to hire until all of those positions are filled … with the bonus.” 

Otis Dupree was shooting for one of those remaining refuse jobs. He was one of about 150 people applying for vacant city jobs in a four-hour span at a northside job fair.    

“I have a family. I have a wife. I have kids. I have a mortgage. I have to keep going … I’m just trying to have a better career, long-term, with a pension,” Dupree said.   

More than 15% of the city of St. Louis’ close to 6,000 positions were vacant when a pandemic-induced hiring freeze was lifted in May.   

The refuse jobs have been among the first to fill. The city even plans to re-start its recycling program, now. The program has been suspended for months with recycling dumpsters being emptied with trash dumpsters because there haven’t been enough drivers to cover separate recycling routes.   

“We have a number of people going through training right now. We estimated that we would be able to start separating trash and recycling sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Dunne said.    

Alderman John Collins-Mohammed said, “We have too many potholes in our streets. We need people to fill them.  We have too many derelict houses and condemned buildings up, we have to tear them down.”

His ward hosted the job fair.  

“We have to cut through the red tape. We have to streamline this process. We have to be strategic. We have to do everything we can to get these positions filled. Hopefully, this will wake people up. Everybody needs jobs, especially as we enter this post-Covid era,” he said.    

Starting pay for all full-time jobs with the City of St. Louis is $31,000 to $35,000 a year with benefits.