San Diego

Caltrans Union Files Grievance, Sick of Cleaning Up Homeless Camps

Workers with the California Department of Transportation are responsible for clearing trash along the state's freeways, ramps and overpasses, including homeless encampments.

Dirty needles and trash knee deep are just a few of the hazards Caltrans workers say they're dealing with on the job, and as homelessness continues to rise throughout the state, more and more camps are popping up.

Operating Engineers Local 501 has filed a grievance against Caltrans, saying they're fed up with being ordered to clean up the encampments they say pose a significant threat to their health and safety.

"Our maintenance crews and our maintenance classifications within Caltrans, their job is to pick up litter and do some grounds work, but not to go into these homeless encampments. These homeless encampments are just littered with rubbish and trash, feces and urine and buckets of human waste," said Mark Fragoso, CA Unit 12 Coordinator for Operating Engineers, Local 501.

They tell NBC 7 workers are given only a pair of gloves to sort out syringes, human waste and other contaminated items. One worker in San Diego was pricked by a dirty syringe while cleaning up an encampment. 

Silvia Ramirez lives in Mission Valley, a stone's throw away from a more than a few camps. She told NBC 7 she doesn't blame Caltrans workers for being upset. 

"I'd be like 'That's not my job." If I'm not educated on that, I don't know what I'm getting into. People shouldn't be expected to do something that's beyond their knowledge," she explained.

The state says 7,000 homeless camps were cleared by Caltrans last year. It cost about $10 million, which is a 34% increase from the year before.

Caltrans declined an interview request with NBC 7, but said "safety is a top priority for Caltrans and we will carefully review the grievance," in a statement released Thursday.

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