Garbage guru: Sunset Park leader helps locals prep for sanitation test

Pro bono professor: Sunset Parker Tony Giordano spends an evening giving neighbors free test prep classes ahead of a February civil service exam.
The Brooklyn Paper
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What’s the old saying? One man’s trash is another man’s good job with a pension?

A Sunset Park resident is helping his neighbors land sought-after jobs with the sanitation department in hopes that the high-wage gigs will stabilize a neighborhood he fears is poised for rapid gentrification.

“This is about maintaining our population,” said civic leader Tony Giordano. “Sunset Park is on the precipice.”

Giordano spent last week helping about a dozen Sunset Park residents study for the department’s civil-service exam. The former public-school teacher said the city’s plans to redevelop the waterfront could bring an influx of money into the immigrant neighborhood without lifting up the people living there now.

Locals voiced similar concerns that newcomers would drive up rents and push out longtime residents when the city announced it wanted to entice Manhattan fashionistas to the neighborhood’s Liberty View Industrial Plaza late last year.

Helping residents secure stable, well-paid jobs is key to preventing displacement, Giordano said.

The starting salary for a sanitation worker is $33,746 per year — more than $16 an hour — and can increase to a maximum of $69,339 after five and a half years.

Careers with New York’s Strongest are some of the most prized city jobs thanks to high pay, good benefits, and a short pension vesting period, requiring only 22 years on the job before workers are eligible for full retirement, one sanitation worked said. And the work is enjoyable — despite dealing with other people’s trash, the worker said.

“A couple of guys in my garage have worked 30 years, and they don’t want to retire. That says something,” said Alberto Sanchez, who joined the sanitation department 15 months ago, and whose two brothers are taking the test in February.

Giordano tutored his pupils in basic test-taking skills, but he also ran them through practice exams provided by the Sunset Park Business Improvement District.

Students’ ages ranged from early 20s to late 40s. The sanitation hopefuls reported having steady work, but said the municipal gig would be a major improvement.

“I drive a truck in Manhattan,” said Javier “Suave” Mercado. “But I wanted to upgrade to sanitation for the benefits.”

“It’s all about providing for my family,” Joseph Rivera said.

The Sunset Park residents face a lot of competition for the coveted trash-handling jobs. Tens of thousands or people are expected to take the test, Giordano said. The department ranks applicants based on their scores, and when a job opens up, it draws from the top of the list, he said.

Applicants often wait years to get called. The last test was in 2007. Sanchez scored 98 out of a possible 110 (the department gives bonus points for living in the five boroughs and having veteran status) and he didn’t get a call from the department until 2013, because there were 4,000 people ahead of him in line.

The sanitation hopefuls have a month to shore up their knowledge and run through test prep packets ahead of the exam, which the city will administer in early February. As Giordano wrapped up the Jan. 8 class, he reminded his students that the real work lies ahead.

“After Friday, you won’t have me,” he said. “The weightlifting is all yours to do.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

John O'Hara from Sunset Park says:
Keep up the good work Tony.
Jan. 13, 2015, 1:26 am
jjm from c. hill says:
Gentrification isnt exactly imminent. As long as you make your voice heaed, it can be dragged down or stopped. Sure, parts of bk are gentrified but people are growing very wary of it & putting it on blast so the people of SP need to step up to the developers.
Jan. 13, 2015, 5:38 am
tony giordano from sunset park says:
Thanks John....nice to hear from you. Check us out on Sunset Parker public group Facebook....over 3,500 of us keeping Sunset'd be a wonderful addition.
Jan. 13, 2015, 8:28 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
helping youngsters in Sunset Park to stay in schools and to avoid drugs and gang is also a priority to keep residents riding the inevitable changing waves of neighborhood upgrade. Those who prefer status quo must realize that Brooklyn is already behind in gentrification progress when compare to many other cities.
Jan. 13, 2015, 9:53 am
jjm from c. hill says:
If bk is behind then lets keep it that way. Sure, everyone needs improvements but not at the expense of pricing out long timers.
Jan. 13, 2015, 12:38 pm
The Duke from Flatbush says:
A lot of the beneficiaries of the "sharing economy" that are gentrifying Brooklyn are uber Libertarians. Expect them to set their sights on destroying public unions and privatizing everything they can get their hands on, as soon as they have the political power to do so. Grab those city jobs while you can!
Jan. 13, 2015, 1:48 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Getting 20 people good jobs is good for those 20 and their families, but it's not going to keep the neighborhood intact. Try upzoning Park Slope.
Jan. 13, 2015, 5:09 pm
tony from sunset park says:
Oh my goodness MJ from Bay Ridge - have kids stay in school & not join gangs? where have you been? that is sunset 30 years ago...give me a break - talk about bay ridge....and stop applying 30 year old stereotypes to my neighborhood.
Jan. 13, 2015, 9:06 pm
tony from sunset park says:, forget the individual, forget 20 individuals and the five or so people in their families or who their lives touch and let's instead do some academic exercise...get out and kiss someone - get some human contact - it will be a life changer.
Jan. 13, 2015, 9:08 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
If you're not interested in broad solutions that can help everyone, you might as well be handing out lottery tickets.
Jan. 13, 2015, 10:46 pm
Packed In from Gentry Town says:
You don't get more human contact than 4 adults splitting the rent for a one bedroom. That's how we do in Gentry Town. So yeah they need to up zone Park Slope so we can overtax the sewers, schools, stores etc. so let's get to demolishing those brownstones because us fly by nights need housing. It's a win/win we'll pay four figures for a box and the landlordscan hike the rent once we head back west.
Jan. 13, 2015, 11:04 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
It's a good thing for the landlords that they have people like Packed on their side to shield them from facing any competition.
Jan. 13, 2015, 11:18 pm
bkmanhatman from nubrucklyn says:
if you want to stop those people from Ohio driving prices up you will want to encourage home ownership.
Like the Chinese people over in 8th avenue and those are Asian people from mainland China not ABC's who are part of the gentrifying skinny jeans crowd.
Jan. 14, 2015, 8:41 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
the fact is much of Brooklyn has not seen rapid gentrification because the previous mayor Bloomberg has so focused on Manhattan. Now with mayor de Blasio's promise to narrow the gap, more public money and private investment will be poured into neighborhoods like Sunset Park, hence rapid gentrification.
Jan. 14, 2015, 9:14 pm

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