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What It's Like to Work as a Garbage Man?
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What It’s Like to Work as a Garbage Man?

All of us depend on various professionals for an array of our needs. While people are generally appreciative of their support staff, we tend to neglect the services of garbage men and the ordeal they face, particularly now that the trend of hiring a Vallejo garbage company is prevalent. 

Charles Shepherd is well aware that his job will take its toll on his physical well-being.

His official title with the city of Berkeley, California, has been “solid waste worker” for the past year and a half, but he isn’t fond of it. “I’m a garbage man,” he admits. He’s 34 years old today, and he estimates he’ll be working for another 26 years before retiring. But he also understands that it will be contingent on how his body actually works.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, garbage collection is the sixth most dangerous job in America, with 34 fatal injuries per 100,000 employees; in 2016, a Berkeley sanitation worker died after being crushed between his vehicle and a utility pole.

It’s also a rapidly expanding field. Since a growing population means more waste, the 136,000 persons employed as garbage and recyclable collectors across the country are predicted to grow by 13% by 2026.

Work ethic and unexpected benefits:

The aches and pains that result from the profession’s repetitive stress are all a part of the work. “You’re manually dumping carts down these long, rocky driveways,” he explains. “Your shoulders hurt, your knees and feet suffer, and your hands swell up when you come home at the end of the day.” It costs a lot of money. The old men have difficulty walking, have torn rotator cuffs, and require knee surgery, among other things.”

Evans claims he earns $60,000 per year in exchange for his body, with a $30 hourly rate, time-and-a-half on holidays, two weeks of paid vacation, and complete health coverage for his family.

The other major drawback of the job is that it entails carrying away unwanted items, many of which stinks horribly. Occasionally, the truck’s lift catches, spilling diapers or kitty litter into the street, which he must collect by hand. Items like bleach or insecticides, as well as glass bottles shattered in the hopper, are more harmful.

“Shards of glass can hit you in the neck or face if you’re not paying attention and the glass breaks,” he explains. “However, what about that odor?” You start adapting to it.”

Declining wages take a toll:

The threats and concerns are the same in New York City as they are across the country, but everything is exaggerated.

Rather than having a single firm collect trash, there is a mix of public and private agencies, with the latter covering the busy night shift. Working for these private waste companies was good until the 1990s, when Mayor Giuliani swore to remove mob interests from sanitation jobs, according to Allan Henry, an organizer with Teamsters Local 813. “He wanted to get the crowd out, and he did,” Henry adds.

However, as part of his meticulous regulatory procedure, the Teamsters were no longer permitted to have all of their members on a single contract, forcing them to negotiate fresh agreements with each collecting agency.

People do not stop working. They are retired in this industry.

Joe Ostro’s 22-year career in the private waste management industry is a fantastic example of how the industry has evolved over time. According to ProPublica, he works for Action Carting, a private trash management company in New York City that collects garbage from 16,700 businesses with 133 garbage trucks. Getting a position like that, Ostro recalls, was like hitting the lottery when he first started.

“You’d work for 20 years and then retire,” says Ostro. “On top of that, you get high income and benefits.” But it wasn’t always the case.”

When Ostro first started in 1996, he was paid “$17 and change” per hour, but with rises over the years, he now earns $30 per hour. However, no one entering this employment in 2018 should expect to make that much money, no matter how long they work there, according to Ostro. Shifts are only becoming longer—the normal shift was 8-12 hours two decades ago, but it’s now 10-18 hours, according to Henry—and benefits are continually being whittled away.

“I’m doing the same hard labor as individuals making $15, $16, $17 an hour,” Ostro says. “At $16 an hour, you should seriously consider changing careers.

Ostro is now 46 years old. He considers switching to a city job, but he’s spent too much time here and it’s not financially feasible to start over. He believes he can wring three more years out of his body before moving on to the next thing. At the very least, he hopes.

“You’re not going to make it to the end of your career working private sanitation [in New York],” Henry, the Teamster organizer, says. “People don’t retire,” says the narrator. This industry is responsible for their retirement.”

So, the next time you hire any junk or removal company, such as 3 Kings Hauling, be appreciative of their staff. Treat them with kindness because you don’t what ordeal they are facing.