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Bronx Sanitation Worker May Haul A Lot Of Trash, But Her Job’s Not Garbage

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Mayra Cruz, 29

If Mayra Cruz had decided to take Wednesday off in honor of International Women’s Day, only two people would have noticed — her driver and her boss.

As the sole woman sanitation worker currently employed by Avid Waste, a private company that is based in Bronx, Cruz’s absence wouldn’t have caused much of a ripple.

But that is not to say the 29-year-old’s impact on Bronx company has not been felt, her boss said.

“She’s been with us for four months and has already had two pay increases and one promotion,” said Avid owner Ben Velocci.

In his 35 years in the carting industry — the past 11 based specifically in the competitive New York market — Velocci has hired a handful of women sanitation workers.

But they are far from the majority, he admitted.

“Women are up to the task of doing this job, and it’s something they should think about because there are not many opportunities for good-paying working-class jobs,” Velocci noted. “Our industry in general is a great place for people to start a career.”

Like many women, Cruz might have overlooked the trash-hauling business if it were not for her family connections.

Her step-father works for a different company and often tapped her and her older brother as temporary hires when he needed a shift filled, Cruz said.

Her younger brother worked at Avid and helped her get an interview there and her godbrother currently works with her at the company.

“It’s a really great job, I’m on the road, I’m out exploring the city and I love the freedom of it,” said Cruz. “I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck.”

Cruz has a degree in audio engineering and is also licensed to drive a big rig. The CDL license is not required to get a job at Avid, but obtaining it opens up more promotional opportunities and bumps up a worker’s salary, Velocci said.

“Mayra got hers very quickly, so that immediately increased her pay rate,” the Avid owner said.

Cruz’s license is a class A, meaning she’s permitted to drive tractor trailors.

“We’ll sit down with her next week, and go over a schedule that gives her an opportunity to start driving a route. Within six months she’ll probably have her third pay rate increase,” said Velocci.

Cruz’s hourly pay is already a huge improvement over the minimum wage she earned at Dunkin’ Donuts while attending school for her degree.

“Back then I was making $7.50 an hour. Now I’m over $15, and there’s a lot more opportunities and growth here,” she said.

Plus, she likes the overnight schedule which keeps her out from 9:00 p.m. to roughly 6:00 a.m. After a few hours sleep, she is ready for the rest of her day.

Velocci’s updated a second locker room and bathroom for Cruz so she would have a place to change into her gear away from the men — but aside from that, she’s just one of the guys, Cruz said.

“Women think you have to be like, super strong to do this kind of work. You don’t — you just have to be mentally prepared for how physical it is,” said Cruz. “It’s just another workout, that’s how I think of it.”

The trash Cruz picks up overnight with her driver ranges from demolition material to debris from restaurants — "and where there is food, there's rats", she said.

“I don’t mind them, you see them running around in the trash but I’ve never been bitten. They’re just another part of the city,” she said.

Cruz is often lifting bags that are 50 pounds or more, but if she enounters one that is really big, she does not hesitate to call her partner behind the wheel.

“It’s not a big deal if you need help with a bag — everybody does sometimes. My partner will ask me for a hand too, he’ll say, ‘Hey, lift this one with me, it’s really heavy and I don’t want to hurt my back,’” Cruz said.

The 29-year-old has big plans to move up the Avid Waste ladder into a driver’s position, but she said she would encourage any woman looking for good paycheck to consider hauling trash.

“Maybe this is for you and maybe it’s not, but if you’re interested go ahead and give it a try,” said Cruz. “There’s a lot of freedom, a lot of support and a lot of opportunity to make a good living.

 

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Peter Mirabella, PhD

is recently retired from the New York City Department of Education, where he taught elementary school for nearly 9 years. He completed the New York City Teaching Fellows Program in 2004. Prior to becoming a teacher, he was a public affairs speechwriter for over 20 years for such organizations as The New York Stock Exchange, KPMG Peat Marwick, Goldman Sachs, and the New York State Comptrollers Office. He has a Ph.D. in political science from the New School University and a M.A. Degree in education from Lehman College. Dr. Mirabella currently is writing a book about his experience as a New York City school teacher.