New York, NY – Demetrius Wilson is a District Superintendent Operations Assistant at Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association IBT Local 831. He has 18 years on the job. He talked to LaborPress about what he does and his altered experience, and that of his members, during COVID. While much of the city was mired in fear, they did their job and never quit.
Wilson operates out of District 9, which spans 110th to 155th Streets in Manhattan, and from Riverside to St. Nicholas Avenue.
Primarily, in 2005, working as a Sanitation Worker “on the truck I collected garbage, recycling, basket cleaning – doing baskets means exactly that: I emptied them, I swept around the area, cleaned the area that needed to be cleaned. Any loose garbage that was around the baskets I cleaned that – my partner and I. Every block – we have a route, and every block in the route you have to service the baskets. Every truck has a route. And that would be primarily baskets, as well as collection.”
Since 2013, Wilson has worked as a DSOA, District Superintendent Operations Assistant. “I work directly for the District Superintendent, what he or she primarily asks me to do as far as the operations regarding their specific garage. I also relay all our operations to our main district, the Manhattan borough, and the person who relays the operation back and forth, and whatever operations we have going out for the day and the next day I confirm with the Manhattan borough, the main office. As well as, my co-workers, I tell them which shift they’re on… what they’ll be doing, who they’ll be doing it with, if their days are scheduled off, the truck that they’ll have, their vacations, anything to do with any operational function in my garage, as directed by the Manhattan borough, relayed to my direct Superintendent, given to me…I still, from time to time, holidays, Sundays, and extenuating circumstances, I can be asked to go on the truck. What I mean by that is what I just explained: basket removal, basket cleaning, litter cleaning, and in the snow, definitely, I can be asked to go out and remove snow with a salt spreader…remove snow with a plow…”
During the pandemic, Wilson says, “Outside of the uncertainty, because the uncertainty was definitely there because when you’re dealing with people and the unknown fear of, ‘What are we exposed to as a world?’ ‘Who is coming to you with exposure to the coronavirus that can potentially kill you?’ You don’t know who has it, who’s bringing it to their family, whose family inadvertently gave it to them, because, you know, it’s tasteless, it doesn’t have a smell…we don’t have a working knowledge of it…We’ve been through different things before. The Ebola crisis, Hurricane Sandy, where we had to go to different houses, absolutely, and remove debris from peoples’ houses which was really a sad affair.
And the one thing we did, was just, we’re coming to work because we made a commitment, we signed a contract. Actually, I would say we even calmed a lot of the public in terms of ‘Hey man, this is our job, we’re not not going to come to work, so even if you’re talking to me and you’re like, hey, Demetrius, what are my orders and we’re face to face, I can’t be so hung up on what this thing is doing or potentially could do to us, because we’ve already made our commitment. There’s a reason why we’re the strongest.
We made a commitment, we’re not staying home, we’re going to do what we’re going to do to serve the public. I was very proud of our men and women and all my members because no one stayed home because of the pandemic. We just worked…there’s no remote for sanitation. The garbage is there.
Even with the uncertainty [of the pandemic] none of the members wavered in terms of showing up for work…It’s just ‘Hey man, you got to be there at five [a.m.] now, garbage got to get off the streets. I couldn’t imagine the garbage staying on the street. I think that would actually cause more pressure to the pandemic, more anxiety. Imagine your garbage out and this is still going on? ‘Oh my God, the world is falling!’ Make no mistake, firefighters and police officers are extremely important, and there’s a certain calmness knowing that they are there, but when you see garbage on the street, aka missed collection, piling up for days on end, it can add to your fears.
We just kept working right through it…” he adds.