Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Sanitation workers. . . labor matters

All of my life and up until just a few weeks before his death, my dad listened for the sanitation workers who served his home in Richardson, Texas.

When he heard their trucks in the alley behind his house, he would spring into action. Laden with cold drinks and ice water, he would insist that they stop, take a break and enjoy some refreshment. He appreciated what they did for all of us. Not to honor their hard work was for him, well, intolerable. My father respected workers.

I suppose I got it from my dad--the whole notion that labor, hard work deserved to be honored and, even more certainly, to be rewarded with fair wages.
Doesn't always seem to be the case these days, does it?

Along these lines, Dallas City Council Member Angela Hunt captured my attention last week when she rode on a sanitation truck for part of a day out in the Pleasant Grove section of Dallas.

Click on the title line above and you'll be redirected to The Dallas Observer blog where you can read Sam Merten's entire story (the photo here comes from this source). I'd love to hear your reactions, as always. By the way, thanks for the report, Sam!

Ms. Hunt believes that city employees should be paid a living wage. That concept is increasingly elusive to more and more Dallasites, as is true across the nation today.

As I read the Observer's blog on the story, I was blown away by the disparity in pay between the drivers and the trash movers working in the back of the vehicles. Drivers earn between $11 and $18 an hour and are city employees. The trash haulers on the street and back of the truck are "temporary workers," earning minimum wage and often working over 12 hours daily. Again, check out the blog for more amazing and disheartening details about fair wages, working conditions and Dallas sanitation services.

One more fact: many of the guys "on the back" are ex-offenders who have a hard time finding work anywhere else. As a result, they are left to take jobs like this earning low wages. Can anyone spell recidivism?

Ms. Hunt, you are correct when you say, “Let’s pay these guys a decent wage so that they aren’t forced back into crime to make ends meet.”

I won't tell you about the city's idea regarding GPS systems and sanitation trucks! You'll need to read Sam's story to pick that one up.

Again, I'll wait for your responses.

I'll tell you one thing for sure. My dad wouldn't be pleased. And, frankly, I believe he's in a better place to judge such things than he was a few months ago.



Frank Bellizzi said...

I also grew up with (and have retained) the idea that all honest work has dignity. But the disparity of which you speak practically denies all of those good-sounding words. God help us.

Anonymous said...

Everytime I hear a story about sanatation workers I think about Memphis in 1968. A 10 cent an hour raise would have ended the strike and most likely saved the life of Dr. King. It makes me sick to think that a person out of prison would be willing to haul garbage and be paid no more than minimum wage. I hope something can be done.


Chris said...

I agree 100% that they should be paid more. I can't imagine doing that kind of work for minimum wage.

My husband works in prison ministry. He is a volunteer chaplin and when a person is released he takes them to a half-way house and helps them get settled. He assists them in many ways. When I told him that ex-offenders have to do this work he said it wasn't true here. He has never had one to do this work. His latest ex-offender works in a high class restaurant and was so good he now serves at banquets and makes good money. One sells cars(new) and was salesman of the month. There are other such stories. He has never had one work on a garbage truck.

I'm not saying to take away from the fact that it happens, just that it doesn't have to.

Charles said...

Chris, is your husband able to help all released inmates? Do you know of any broader programs we could contact to work with local prisons?


Larry James said...

Chris, I'd love to understand more about the scale of your husband's work--how many ex-offenders does he place in a year? What are his employment sources for these persons? What you say here is likely true for a handfull of ex-inmates, but I can assure you the national data is not nearly so cheery as you'd have us believe. Wondering if maybe your attitude has more to do with your ideology again, than with any on-the-ground reality, at least at any scale that matters beyond the very lucky guys your husband gets hired. I'd like to hear more about who he works with. This is a giant national problem and must not be dismissed with Pollyanna stories of grand success for all.

Chris said...

I did not mean to imply that my husband was a lone ranger volunteer helping isolated ex-offenders. He volunteers in several prisons in the Sugar Land area. His main volunteer work is with Prison Fellowship which is a world wide ministry with thousands of volunteers working with thousands and thousands of offenders. One specific ministry is with Prison Fellowships InnerChange Freedom Initiative in Rosenberg. This is a faith based prison ministry facilited by President George W. Bush 10 years ago when he was governor of Texas. IFI has grown to facilities in seven states. There are probably Prison Fellowship progarms in the area of anyone reading your blog and I could recommend no better ministry to get involved with.

Eric Livingston said...


You might miss the point here if you say none of the inmates your husband knows has had to work on a garbage truck - as if that is an intolerable or shameful profession. We need garbage collectors. We just ought to pay them a livable wage.

The issue at hand is about fair wages - not the type of employment. I'm sure your husband knows many inmates who have had jobs doing ______ where they weren't paid enough. That's the point.

RogueMInister said...

This is truly sad. It does raise questions in my mind about what exactly the church should be doing though. How could we alleviate this problem? What responsibility do we have to those who were recently released from prison? How can we help support those who are not getting paid the wages they deserve?

It is my prayer that Christians would seek out creative ways to contribute to solutions to all of these problems.