It’s an all too familiar story in our city – formerly incarcerated New Yorkers being denied a fair shot at employment opportunities and getting trapped in poverty. Men and women who have done their time and reformed their lives just want to work hard and contribute to their communities, but they are treated only with mistrust.
And it isn’t just a story – this was my life. I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City in a low-income community with few chances for success. Like so many other men of color, I ended up in prison. And when I got out, I knew I needed to rebuild my life the right way – and that included finding a good job.
I heard a lot of people in this city talking about how people like me deserved a second chance – but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find that second chance anywhere I looked. I went to dozens of job interviews only to be turned away once I explained my past. It started to feel like I might never get a job.
But that all changed a couple of years ago when a friend told me about an opportunity at Royal Waste Services – a company in New York City’s commercial waste industry. I heard that they might actually be willing to give someone like me a second chance and a fair shot at a job.
It turned into one of the most important opportunities of my life. This company gave me a fair chance to work hard and contribute to the team, just like anyone else. Now, I live in Glendale and I have a good job – one that I take pride in every day.
When most people think about the commercial waste industry, they usually think of the garbage truck drivers and helpers. However, there is a lot of other work to be done for the company and for our community. I provide support on equipment maintenance for our fleet of waste carting trucks – but what I am most proud of is the work that I do here as a crossing guard in the local community, on a busy street corner near our company’s office.
These days, my job has become one of the most important things in my life. That is why I am so concerned about a proposal by the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) that would leave me and other workers like me at risk of losing our jobs. DSNY is proposing to restructure the commercial waste industry into a series of collection zones – and under this plan, only a small number of carting companies would be able to operate in each zone.
This is a major problem because it would mean that many carting companies currently active in the industry would not win a contract under this zoned system, leading to a much smaller industry with fewer companies. And of course this means that some companies will essentially be forced out of the industry, leaving their workers unemployed.
Of course steps should be taken to ensure that workers across our industry are safe – but can’t that be done without leaving so many hardworking men and women without jobs?
The bottom line here is that the de Blasio administration is advancing a proposal that it knows will lead to job losses in commercial waste carting – including for second-chance workers like myself. I don’t believe that is fair, and I believe many other workers will agree that the city should keep working to increase safety without putting people out of work.
I truly hope that Mayor de Blasio and DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia will consider this perspective as they continue exploring ways in which to reform the commercial waste industry. There is still time for them to rethink their plans and help to keep all workers safe – without eliminating good jobs for men and women who are so often denied a second chance.
Alfredo Ramirez is a Queens resident and an employee for Royal Waste Services.