Remembering the Sanitation Workers
It was the summer of 1968. I had just finished my junior year of high school and needed a summer job. I was offered a job with a small construction company and began working. Unfortunately, not many weeks into the summer, the company owner came to me and explained that he did not have enough work to keep me employed. However, he offered to find me a job, if I wanted to work. I assured him that I did indeed want to work. He told me to go to the city depot the next morning and they would have a job for me. I arrived at the city depot around 7:00 a.m. and was assigned a job on a truck: it was a garbage truck. The city sanitation workers were on strike that summer and the city needed workers to man the trucks. I spent the rest of the summer collecting garbage that had been piling up for weeks. I can still remember getting home at the end of the day and smelling so foul that my mother would make me take off my clothes in the garage before coming into the house. I spent my summer riding on the back of the garbage truck and carrying garbage from each house in large baskets that hung over my back. It was hot, grueling, dirty work, but it paid $3.00/hour and for a high school junior in 1968, that seemed like big money. It was a summer adventure and when the summer ended, I went back to high school with a little bit of money and a big life lesson.
Little did I associate the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King that April with my summer adventure? Little did I realize that the $3.00/hour that I was making was not a livable wage for the men on strike? Little did I care that my summer job was the life and livelihood of the men on strike? But now, I know and now I care. It is easy to take for granted the people who do the menial tasks in our community. It is also easy to forget that even the sanitation workers have families that they need to feed and deserve a livable wage. I can attest that it can be hot, grueling, dirty work.
1968 was a long time ago, but I can’t see a garbage truck in our community without remembering those days and wishing those workers well.