It’s a hot Saturday morning, two weeks before Senator Dick Saslaw (D-35) faces two challengers in the June 11th primary election. While his campaign manager undoubtedly thinks he’s out knocking doors, or making calls, or working on messaging, he’s actually driving out to Manassas to visit the American Disposal Services company. Why? Because some of his constituents complained to him about their services being reduced, and their grass clippings not having been picked up. Is this in the job description for Virginia State Senator? Probably not, but anyone who knows him well knows that this is quintessential Dick Saslaw–someone who thrives on finding solutions to problems.
What the Senator learned when he got there was incredibly disturbing. The manager explained to him that despite their best efforts to stay fully staffed, they have a very hard time keeping employees. It’s an incredibly difficult job–the fifth most dangerous job–done under working conditions that most people would find unbearable. Even though American Disposal pays good wages ($40-50k for laborers, $70-85k for drivers), offers retirement benefits and health insurance, and is a Second Chance employer and works with the Prince William County work release program, they are short-handed.
Because while these workers are out in the streets in the hot sun, dangling precariously off the end of the truck, inhaling the fumes of baked garbage, jumping off to lift heavy cans onto the truck’s arm before jumping back on…people are coming out of their air-conditioned houses to YELL AT THEM. People are throwing things at them. People are shouting “Go back to your country!” at them. People are swearing at them. People are pointing guns at them. People are driving aggressively around them. The open, blatant hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia that we are seeing everywhere around us is even being targeted at these people who are working one of the toughest of jobs.
And it’s not just this company, it’s happening at the other sanitation companies as well. And it’s happening even in the call centers, where dozens of workers take service calls from customers, and are subjected daily to the kind of verbal assault that should be illegal. I spoke on the phone to the manager that Senator Saslaw talked with, and she summed it up well: “People think YOU’RE trash, because it’s trash.”
I’m not sure what Saslaw will be able to do to fix this problem, he mentioned getting in touch with the Department of Social Services to find out whether they could partner with management at American to place people needing work there; we’ll have to see where the conversation goes. The manager at American told me that she was glad that the Senator took the time to come talk in person, and that she was really impressed that he was “active in trying to make a difference.”
Since I’ve gotten to know Senator Saslaw, I’ve seen so much of this behind the scenes work he does, fixing ordinary problems in the community. And not just him. It’s the side of many of our legislators that we don’t often get to see, unless it’s our problem they’re fixing. There’s often no photo op for them in these tasks, no media coverage, just the satisfaction of knowing they’ve made a difference in their community, which is hopefully why they run for office in the first place.