Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trashy Town

Oscar sings about it. Mr. Gilly collects it. But most of us don't think much about it.

Yep, that's right: trash. We generate plenty of it. We've gotten better at separating out the recyclables. Some of us have food scrap pick up. Some of us compost at home. Some of us throw everything into one big bin and bury our heads in the sand. But we all have trash.

And someone must come to take it away. Normally we don't spend much time contemplating this, but now that there's a strike affecting some areas of Howard County, we just might. For some it's just the basic questions--

  • Will I be affected?
  • Will my trash be picked up on time?
  • How will I know if my trash won't be picked up?

I'd like to suggest a few more. It appears that our sanitation workers are not employed by the County directly. We contract with multiple private firms that do the hiring, scheduling, and supervising. And one of these firms, Unity Disposal, is involved in a labor dispute with its drivers and assistants. How much do we, who clearly rely on this service, know about how it is provided?

  • How much do our sanitation workers make?
  • What kind of benefits do they have?
  • If there are multiple firms in the county, are their contracts with workers comparable?
  • Are workers being compensated fairly?
  • Is this the most efficient way for Howard County to handle waste disposal?

I think it's important to ask these questions. It is not enough to expect that trash pick-up will happen just because we need it to happen. Many of us who live in Howard County benefit from an overall affluence that is woven into almost every aspect of our lives: food, housing, education, employment. In an article about the strike, union member Damion West holds a sign that reads, "We Are Not Disposable."


Do I have all the answers? No. But I do know that showing respect for the dignity of all work is crucial. Words like "Waste Disposal", "Sanitation Assistant", and "Trash Pickup" are nameless and faceless concepts that allow us to look the other way. Damion West is a person. He has a name, a face, a family, and a role in our community.


No one should be disposable.



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