Garbage guru: Sunset Park leader helps locals prep for sanitation test

Garbage guru: Sunset Park leader helps locals prep for sanitation test
Photo by Steve Schnibbe

What’s the old saying? One man’s trash is another man’s good job with a pension?

A Sunset Park resident is helping his neighbors land sought-after jobs with the sanitation department in hopes that the high-wage gigs will stabilize a neighborhood he fears is poised for rapid gentrification.

“This is about maintaining our population,” said civic leader Tony Giordano. “Sunset Park is on the precipice.”

Giordano spent last week helping about a dozen Sunset Park residents study for the department’s civil-service exam. The former public-school teacher said the city’s plans to redevelop the waterfront could bring an influx of money into the immigrant neighborhood without lifting up the people living there now.

Locals voiced similar concerns that newcomers would drive up rents and push out longtime residents when the city announced it wanted to entice Manhattan fashionistas to the neighborhood’s Liberty View Industrial Plaza late last year.

Helping residents secure stable, well-paid jobs is key to preventing displacement, Giordano said.

The starting salary for a sanitation worker is $33,746 per year — more than $16 an hour — and can increase to a maximum of $69,339 after five and a half years.

Careers with New York’s Strongest are some of the most prized city jobs thanks to high pay, good benefits, and a short pension vesting period, requiring only 22 years on the job before workers are eligible for full retirement, one sanitation worked said. And the work is enjoyable — despite dealing with other people’s trash, the worker said.

“A couple of guys in my garage have worked 30 years, and they don’t want to retire. That says something,” said Alberto Sanchez, who joined the sanitation department 15 months ago, and whose two brothers are taking the test in February.

Giordano tutored his pupils in basic test-taking skills, but he also ran them through practice exams provided by the Sunset Park Business Improvement District.

Students’ ages ranged from early 20s to late 40s. The sanitation hopefuls reported having steady work, but said the municipal gig would be a major improvement.

“I drive a truck in Manhattan,” said Javier “Suave” Mercado. “But I wanted to upgrade to sanitation for the benefits.”

“It’s all about providing for my family,” Joseph Rivera said.

The Sunset Park residents face a lot of competition for the coveted trash-handling jobs. Tens of thousands or people are expected to take the test, Giordano said. The department ranks applicants based on their scores, and when a job opens up, it draws from the top of the list, he said.

Applicants often wait years to get called. The last test was in 2007. Sanchez scored 98 out of a possible 110 (the department gives bonus points for living in the five boroughs and having veteran status) and he didn’t get a call from the department until 2013, because there were 4,000 people ahead of him in line.

The sanitation hopefuls have a month to shore up their knowledge and run through test prep packets ahead of the exam, which the city will administer in early February. As Giordano wrapped up the Jan. 8 class, he reminded his students that the real work lies ahead.

“After Friday, you won’t have me,” he said. “The weightlifting is all yours to do.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeg‌[email protected]‌gloca‌l.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Know your route: Giordano used drawings on a white board to improve pupils’ spatial reasoning skills — a major topic on the test.
Photo by Steve Schnibbe

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