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79 11 Dirty Work, Pride in Ownership In 1966, Dr. Stewart E. Perry, a professor of sociology at Boston University , came into my office and asked to interview the scavengers. Of course, I was a bit suspicious of this inquiry—and I was new to the job. Then Dr. Perry said that, in his opinion, the garbage men were happy and he wanted to compare them to others that he had observed throughout the United States during his career as a sociologist . I gave him permission to inter­ view some of the scavengers— in particular, my uncle Freddy on Truck 37, who worked in the Haight-Ashbury District when it was booming for the hippie generation. Dr. Perry initially concluded that the workers were happy because they were shareholders in the company. However, after further research over another year from grant money provided by the US Government, Dr. Perry interviewed other people within our company. Contrary to his initial analysis, Dr. Perry’s final conclusion was that workers at Sunset Scavenger were happier because they were not ashamed to be garbage men. On the contrary, we were all proud to be scavengers, and our work ethic was higher than that of our counterparts throughout the United States. If one thinks about it, it just makes sense. In his initial research, observing garbage collectors around the nation, Dr. Perry found that waste collectors were depressed because somehow they felt they could not find employment in more socially acceptable work. Perry concluded that they were forced into a line of work that, from the average person’s point of view, was the lowest rung on the social ladder. This comment was based upon my personal conversations with Dr. Perry. After researching and gathering information for several years and interviewing our garbage men, Dr. Perry wrote a white paper to share what he had learned from Sunset Scavenger Company and how what he learned might be applied to other garbage collectors throughout the United States. I have no idea where the white paper went, but he used it as the basis for his book, San Francisco Scavengers: Dirty Work and the Pride of Ownership (University of California Press, 1976). Twenty years later, after following the 80 Dirty Work, Pride in Ownership growth of Sunset Scavenger, Dr. Perry republished the book with a new title, Collecting Garbage: Dirty Work, Clean Jobs, Proud People (Transaction Publishers, 1998). The newer book contained a foreword by Raymond Russell and an updated epilogue by Perry. A simple summation of Dr. Perry’s inspection, research, study, and conclusions can be summarized in the following: Ownership in the company was really secondary; garbage collecting was our chosen profession, and we were extremely proud of the services we provided. I didn’t realize that fact until he brought it to my attention. When he did, I recalled that, unlike my partner on Truck 27, I was in fact proud to say I was a scavenger and, clearly, that was the basic philosophical attitude of the vast majority of the personnel, whether they were Boss Scavengers or employees. As part of Dr. Perry’s research, he actually worked on the trucks— more specifically, on Uncle Freddy’s truck in the Haight-Ashbury District. The descriptions of his activities and observations on the Truck 37 route are not only informative, but also put a face on the real life of a scavenger. In that second book, he covers the company history, from birth and through its growth from 1906 through 2002, including my departure from the company in 1986 and the subsequent dramatic change in management. His publication is one of the many reasons I decided to write this book, in order to put a more detailed and personal history on what a great company Sunset Scavenger (now Recology Inc.) has become. I have always suggested that, as conceived, implemented, and practiced since 1920, the company has had a quasi-capitalist/ communist philosophy. Dr. Perry used a more politically sensitive term: a “cooperative corporation”; but the fact remains that the company was a society built upon a communistic philosophy. In any case, whatever we were doing proved to be an extra­ ordinary success. The company grew and prospered but, as time went on, things had to change, and that business model, internally and externally, had to change as well. ...


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