OPINION: NYC’s private waste industry has been the Second Chance program the City doesn’t have
Before I became incarcerated, I had a well-paying job managing a chain of restaurants. I drove the company car, and I wore a suit to work every day. When I was released from prison following a brief sentence, I had to start all over again — but with the stigma of a criminal record.
After many unreturned phone calls and rejections, my cousin found me a job in private waste collection. Thanks to the industry, I’ve been able to rebuild my life and support my son through college. But the de Blasio administration’s waste zones proposal will most likely force me to start all over again for a third time.
Along the way, I’ve learned that I’m not alone; New York’s private carting industry employs hundreds of people like me with limited education and a criminal record, giving us the second chance to work hard, regain our dignity and support ourselves and our families.
From Chicago to Atlanta and Boston, cities across the country have developed Second Chance Programs to employ formerly incarcerated individuals like me in government jobs. Chicago hires ex-offenders for entry-level positions in their transit and sanitation departments, while Atlanta employs ex-offenders in their watershed department. Boston extends paid internships in city government to their ex-offenders and at-risk youth, and those opportunities often turn into full-time employment. Boston’s Operation Exit — a three-week intensive training program that prepares ex-offenders for apprenticeships with unions — is just another way the city provides ex-offenders with a pathway to a career.
Although New York also has a transitional employment program, its scope simply pales in comparison. The city only gives short-term, transitional jobs to inmates leaving city jails after serving a sentence of one year or less — which applies to an incredibly small percentage of those who have dealt with the criminal justice system. And if we were to try to find jobs with the city on our own, we would be out of luck: even sanitation employees must pass a background check, because the city is not required to follow its own Fair Chance Act.
For a city that claims to have such progressive values, the way it treats the formerly incarcerated says otherwise. Where the city has failed to give men like me a second chance, the private hauling industry helped me — and hundreds of other men like me across the city — get back on my feet.
Now, the de Blasio administration’s waste zones proposal will jeopardize our futures. By limiting competition, many private waste haulers will either merge or go out of business, costing many men and women our jobs, as well as our second chances.
Waste management is a dangerous job, and we need to raise safety standards in both the public and private sectors. But the waste zones plan will do too much harm to vulnerable families across the city.
Councilmember Robert Cornegy introduced legislation in June to give the Business Integrity Commission more authority to regulate the private waste industry. Under his plan, BIC could regulate the industry’s safety standards, without costing anyone their jobs — especially for the hundreds of formerly incarcerated men who have relied on the industry for the support they didn’t receive from their city.
City Council should enact Council Member Cornegy’s Intro 996 if it’s interested in really helping formerly incarcerated men like me. We made good on our second chance, and we’re not so sure we’ll be able to get another.
Kevin Flynn works for Viking Sanitation, a Brooklyn Based Garbage Remove and Recycling Service Business
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