First, there was New York’s Finest (New York Police Department), then there was New York’s Bravest (Fire Department of New York), and then there is New York’s Strongest. The strongest men and women of New York City work in the Department of Sanitation of New York (DSNY). The DSNY is responsible for collecting 12,000 tons of residential and institutional trash daily, as well as well cleaning about 47,400 routes per year with 450 street cleaning vehicles.
Founded in 1881, the DSNY was originally known as the Department of Street Cleaning and the first commissioner was in fact,
a Colonel. Colonel George Waring, “instituted efficiencies and waste reduction programs that foretold the programs of today—including recycling, street sweeping and a dedicated uniformed cleaning and collection force,” according to the Commission’s website.
Now, the commissioner is John J. Doherty who was sweeping streets for the DSNY since 1960. “I love what I do,” Doherty said in an interview. “It might seem like a nasty job, but it keeps the city sanitary and beautiful and it’s what I want to keep doing.” Doherty, however, isn’t one of the 6,466 workers out on the New York City streets. The 2,230 collection trucks, or the white trash trucks you see daily, pick up 12,000 tons of trash every day they are in use, according to the 2008 annual report.
The DSNY is also responsible for collecting derelict vehicles, making sure sidewalks and storefront areas are clean, and even tire collection. The commission does a lot more, all of which are outlined in there annual report.
I spent an hour roaming around DSNY’s official photographer, Michael Anton, and a sanitation worker, Alanso Vega. We traveled around the Lower East Side at 6 AM on October 20, scouring the streets for trash bins on corners.
“We don’t know where they are placed,” said Alanso. “They get moved around all the time. The wind blows them down, cars crash into them, people steal them. It’s a bitch when I have to look for them and miss one.”
Alanso said that supervisors drive around in their marked cars looking at each truck’s specific route to note what they missed. “It’s how we’re graded,” he said. The starting salary for a sanitation worker is $31,200 per year, and the maximum current labor agreement provides for periodic increases to a maximum of $67,141 after 5 1/2 years. Other positions, like an agency attorney, can make up to $91,406 a year.
Michael’s job, however, is very different from everyone else’s at the commission. He works 20 hours a week and he is the only photographer in the entire commission. “I go everywhere,” he said. “I get to see the collection facilities, the dumping facilities, the old facilities, and I get a badge, which is awesome.” (He then solicited me for five minutes, asking me if I wanted to see his badge).
“But honestly,” Michael said. “Doesn’t it just warm your heart when a sanitation vehicle drives by?”
For more information on the DSNY, visit: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/html/home/home.shtml