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Joseph Lerman, a first-year New York City sanitation worker, knows firsthand how competitive the job is.
“When I heard there was 96,000 applicants for this job, you know, it made sense,” he said. “And it made me think how hard it is to get a job right now. Ninety-six thousand people — that’s people with jobs they don’t want, that being a sanitation worker is what they want to do.”
To get the job, you have to be 17½ years old, have a commercial driver’s license and take a written and a physical test. And if you pass those tests, you may still have to wait seven years before being offered a job with the department.
One reason applicants may be lining up to become a sanitation worker is the pay. The starting salary is low, $33,746, but when you factor in overtime, it averages $47,371 in the first year. And after 5½ years, the salary jumps to an average of $88,616 dollars. That’s not bad, considering the average annual pay for New York City transit workers is $77,991, New York City teachers is $68,151 dollars and New York City Parks Department employees is $50,042.
According to Kathryn Garcia, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Sanitation, there is ample opportunity for overtime pay, since sanitation workers also operate the city’s 2,300 snowplows. “When we have a big snowfall, we move into 12-hour shifts, and so they earn a lot of overtime,” she said. “Last winter was extraordinarily harsh, and people who might on average have made, say, $75,000 a year were averaging more like $95,000.”
And there are other perks too, such as 10 percent extra pay for night shifts, double pay for Sundays, 25 vacation days after six years of service and an unlimited number of sick days. Sanitation Department workers used an average of 14.4 sick days in 2014 — more than New York City police officers, who also have unlimited sick days but who used an average of only 7.7 days of sick leave in 2014.
“Like any strong union, they do have very good benefits,” said Garcia. “They have very good pension benefits. They have very good health care plan. But that’s also true across most other city employees.”