DECENT JOBS – DECENT PEOPLE

A little over a year ago on October 13, 2010, a DC sanitation worker, Larry Hutchins, was going to get onto his truck so he could come pick up our garbage – yours and mine – when he was shot and killed at the public works site. Last week I saw the first news about him in a year, and it was because the dead man’s widow is suing the city. It’s the first news I’ve seen about him since the day after it happened.

When I first heard about it, I searched the news and the web for information about the shooting, about the men, maybe about a collection being taken for his family. There was little and then, nothing. I Googled and searched. Nothing. That couldn’t be, I thought.

When a worker in a Starbucks was shot, it was all over the news. Why was there so little attention paid to Mr. Hutchins? Was it because we care less about a man who picks up our garbage? This is Washington, D.C. where we just dedicated the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Dr. King was about equality of opportunity. What about equality of respect for people in honest professions? This is not a criticism of the city, the police department, or the media. I think we get the media we deserve because we decide our values.

I own RuthiPostowStaffing and I’ve spent my career in the business of putting people in jobs. The shooting and its media coverage brought to my mind an experience I had early in my career. I was a kid, but even then, it troubled me. A young woman came into the agency responding to an ad for a secretarial job – back then the jobs for women were secretary, typist, or clerk. But she wasn’t qualified. She didn’t even have the basic reading/writing skills to fill out our application, let alone the typing speed of 45 wpm employers demanded for even our most basic clerical positions.

Before coming to Washington, I’d been a teacher in a sharecropper town in Georgia. I’d seen people, particularly women, imprisoned by their lack of education. I wanted to help her. I told her I didn’t have a job she qualified for, but I’d heard GEICO (which had its headquarters in Chevy Chase at that time) was looking for file clerks – even though I wasn’t certain she would have the necessary qualifications.

The girl got hysterical. “I don’t want no filing job. I want a decent job!”

Who taught that girl filing wasn’t decent? Who decided any honest work wasn’t decent? I was incensed then and the feeling has stayed with me all these years. I can’t stand the suggestion that any job is indecent or that some workers are less valuable because of the jobs they do.

With all the injustices in the world, I’ve wondered what made this one affect me so. Because it’s insulting and what I’ve realized is I take it personally.

I grew up in Prichard, Alabama, a paper mill town, raised by blue collar people who were strong and proud and decent. Mama was head cashier of a grocery store. She was the definition of a professional. Daddy was a tugboat captain, then air compressor operator at Brookley Field AFB. They’re the reason I’m here, that I’m educated, that I own a company, and I can write this. What they did was 100% decent work! Once when I was a child I saw the men picking up the garbage on Petain Street, and asked Daddy who would take a job picking up garbage. He said, “A man who’s doing the best he can to make a living.”

We all want our children to do and be all they can be. I’ll bet Mr. Hutchins wanted different careers for his children too. That’s not the point. The point is respect – respect for all workers who show up and do their jobs well.

Mr. Hutchins rode on dirty trucks and picked up refuse so our city would be livable. If you look at results, at making a difference in the community, what job could be more decent and what worker could have more dignity?

Comments

  1. Marcia Wheatley says:

    Thanks for reminding me that we all have a role to play no matter how important we feel our job is over everyone else’s job.

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