Anthony Igneri is hard at work hours before many people are awake.
Igneri, 35, is just shy of a year into working as a sanitation worker for New York City. He starts his day at 4:30 a.m., commutes from Staten Island to Brooklyn, and works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. clearing the city's streets of garbage. Sometimes he'll take a second shift for a few hours of overtime pay, paid at time-and-a-half, especially during the busy winter season when he and his crew plow the streets of snow.
It's a physically demanding job, but one Igneri hopes to work until retirement. He currently earns a base salary of $44,000 per year before overtime and expects to nearly double his earnings with guaranteed pay raises over the next five years.
"New York City sanitation has all different walks of life," Igneri tells CNBC Make It. "We have people that came from the stock exchange. We have people that have never had a job in their life before this. People stop what they're doing and start up in this career. And there's a reason for that. There's nothing like a New York City job."
Here's what it takes to be a sanitation worker and keep New York City's streets running.
Both of Igneri's parents worked 9-to-5 jobs when he was a kid growing up in Staten Island — his mother in financial services and his father as a taxi driver who retired and became real estate investor. Igneri studied business management at Saint Leo University outside Tampa, Florida, and after graduation worked in real estate for three years. Afterward, he worked in wine imports for a few years until, in 2016, he got connected with the Local 751 union, which represents treasurers and ticket sellers for Broadway shows.
Igneri went on to work on Broadway as an assistant treasurer and working in the box office for about several years, first on the "Waitress" production and then for "Six."
By 2020 he was earning $91,000 a year and thought he'd stick with it until retirement — until the Covid-19 pandemic shut everything down. For two years, Igneri stayed home, took care of his two kids and looked for new work.
Little did he know, the Department of Sanitation would come calling with a vacancy. Igneri recalls that years ago he completed a written and physical test to be considered for a sanitation job, at the time just as a backup plan. He was inspired by his grandfather, a World War II veteran who returned to New York in his early 20s, became a sanitation worker and retired after 20 years on the job.
"He always spoke about how important the job was, the lifelong friends he made there and how he was able to support an entire family off of this job," Igneri says. "And it always stuck in the back of my head. Never did I think I would be taking this job, but under the circumstances and the way everything worked out, I'm glad I did."
Igneri responded to the email, underwent a physical and started working for the Department of Sanitation in July 2021. He misses working on Broadway and even got another call to return last year. But the job security and room to grow with the city agency means "everything" to him and his family.
"There's always going to be garbage on the streets. There's always going to be snow to plow. So the security is here," he says. "At my last job, there's a saying the lights don't go off on Broadway. But, unfortunately, for two years they did, and [due to Covid] there's a good chance that might happen again."
Igneri works five to six days a week, with Sundays and a rotating day off most weeks.
He gets to work by 5:30 a.m. to change into his uniform and be ready for roll call at 6 a.m. Then, he gets assigned to a route, grabs his tools and heads out on a truck, where he and a partner will collect garbage for the next three to five hours.
At the end of their route, they'll head to one of three dump sites: garbage and metals are dumped at separate facilities in Brooklyn, while paper gets dumped in Staten Island.
The New York City Department of Sanitation picks up about 12,000 tons of garbage and recycling a day. Some of it gets transported out as far as South Carolina.
Igneri often picks up second shifts for overtime pay, especially during the winter when his crew is also responsible for clearing streets, sidewalks and storm drains of snow. Igneri estimates he can go up to 60 days working overtime, for a total of 12 hours a day, during the busy season.
When he first started the job, Igneri was surprised that sanitation workers do a lot more than collect garbage. Sanitation workers also do street sweeping, clean up after every major parade event in the city, work with the New York Police Department to assist the homeless and pick up illegal dumping, which includes cabinets, tiles, sheetrock and other house-building materials that come out of construction demolition.
Igneri's job comes with a lot of risks having to navigate other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians on the road. "By the time the sun's coming up at 7 or 8 o'clock, those streets are completely packed," he says. "Our eyes are everywhere on the road. We can't make a turn without checking the mirrors 10 times. People don't see us, but we need to see them."
Igneri adds sanitation work is "extremely dangerous" to his own safety. "When you're picking up garbage, there can be anything in there. Today, I had nails. Tomorrow, it could be needles."
Igneri sees his work as more than a job: "We work for every penny. As tough as it is, it's a great job and honest work."
For one, he enjoys the camaraderie of the garage and considers his colleagues "a group of brothers." He also likes the flexibility. Because of his early hours, he's often done with work in time to pick up his two kids, ages 4 and 8, from school.
Igneri is represented by the Local 831 union of sanitation workers. Between the union and the City of New York, Igneri and his family enjoy good benefits coverage. Sanitation workers get a raise after 6 months, 4½ and 5½ years on the job, at which point Igneri expects to nearly double his current pay. The base salary of a New York sanitation worker after five years is currently $83,465.
After 22 years of service, Igneri will retire at age 57 with a pension.
He also sees room to grow in his career. "You can work at the dump where you send off the garbage to go out to its final destinations, [or] you could move up to be a supervisor," Igneri says. "Everything is taking a test. So there's endless opportunity as long as you're able to do well on each test that comes out."
His advice to anyone looking to become a New York City sanitation worker: "Go for it, take the test. I believe it's a great opportunity for anybody out there."
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