I was a street sweeper before I was promoted to housekeeping supervisor and I love my job, thank you

Collecting other people’s waste is a physical job and not always valued. Yet it was as a street sweeper, then as a cleaning supervisor for the city of Paris that Laura found her calling. While the Parisian garbage collectors announced the suspension of the strike against the pension reform, she agreed to tell us what she likes so much about this job, and why it is essential to take better account of her tiring than her.

My name is Laura, I’m 28 years old and since 2017, I work in the cleaning sector in Paris. First a garbage man, now I’m a cleaning supervisor, the “boss of bosses”. AND I am very proud of it.

I left school at 16, I didn’t have a diploma. To find work I went to Paris where I worked as a waitress for 6 years.

Then I met my ex-husband, who was then a garbage man. It was he who introduced me to the profession. When we had a baby, I quickly became disillusioned with restaurant hell hours. I hardly saw my son anymore, I experienced it very badly. It was then that I decided to do like him. After all, why not give it a try? It is active outdoor work. Me having the wanderlust, it suited me perfectly. I then I entered the garbage man contest and I got it.

Street sweeper – a job with responsibility

I started my career as an intern in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, before being assigned to the 5th arrondissement, again to collect garbage. I then passed the internal competitions. Last year, I passed the foreman competition for the first time – I became the head of the garbage collectors. And, in the process, I told myself why not try the notch above, by becoming a supervisor. Again, I succeeded and so I became the chef’s chef.

From now on, I am responsible for two districts in the center of Paris, the 3rd and the 4th. This includes Île Saint-Louis, Île de la Cité, Hôtel de Ville, Bastille… It is my responsibility to respond to requests from the district town halls, but also from the central town hall. I still have Town Hall in my sector!

I have to be there to answer questions from my bosses, to check the work of the agents… I also have to go out into the field to see how things are going. On weekends, when I’m on duty, I survey the four districts of central Paris. So I train a job with responsibility.

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An exhilarating but painful job

When I started working as a garbage collector, I was immediately drawn to collecting. My favorite thing was being behind a truck : you are given your plan, you are with your driver, your friend, and you go to do your job. There is no leader chasing you. From the moment the directives are followed, the job is done, you are at ease. And then being out at 6am when everyone is still asleep, having the city to yourself is very pleasant. You are your own master, it is very rewarding.

If I really appreciate my profession, we mustn’t forget that being a garbage man is a difficult job. It is physically exhausting : When you’re behind the dumpster, two people lift 8 to 10 tons of waste every day. You have to push, lift… And do this repetitive gesture 100 times a day, yes, it harms the body.

There is also the fact of breathe in the dumpster. In addition to the smells – which you get used to very quickly and end up forgetting about them – you are exposed to toxic elements. This is the case with halogens, which emit extremely corrosive gases when they explode. We’re also working on the sidewalk, then we breathe pollution all the time issued by cars, trucks… Not to mention that we take every day the risk of being shot down. Scooters, cars, bicycles do not always pay attention to us. And finally, we are exposed to bad weather. Getting up every morning at 4 in the morning, or even earlier for some, and being exposed to -10°C in winter with snow or 40°C in summer is not easy.

Read also: Carla Bruni makes fun of the suffering of garbage collectors and their strike against the pension reform

A garbage strike is necessary

That’s also why I support my colleagues’ strike against the pension reform. I invite everyone to do our work for a week in their lives to figure this outgoing up to 64 is clearly not possible. Physically it is very difficult to reach old age and continue to collect garbage. Many garbage collectors suffer from tendonitis, have lung health problems… Our life expectancy, when you have a long career in this profession, is still below average. I know a lot of people who unfortunately didn’t make it to retirement. Or that they had a very short retirement. Telling me that tomorrow there are people who have spent their entire career as garbage collectors and who will retire at 64, I don’t think is feasible. And unfortunately, the only way to be heard is not to collect rubbish.

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It is true that it brings unhealthiness and a bad image of the city of Paris. But we are far from the only ones using this mode of action in the world. In London, in New York, when there are strikes, it’s exactly the same.

Then honestly garbage collectors still have a professional conscience. In general, we still make sure to clean up important crossing points, to remove trash as we go. For example, at the level of the Seine, we know very well that rats risk becoming a problem. Garbage collectors and drivers therefore regularly assume their responsibilities.

Regarding the requests announced by the prefecture, I think it’s a showcase. Sure, there are trucks going out, but the emptying centers have been closed for several days. It is not because the trucks were requisitioned that the problem was solved immediately, because they could not then be emptied. Landfills are open again today, but until when?

“I have never been ashamed of my job”

I never bothered to pick up people’s trash, I’ve never been ashamed of my job. I like to tell myself that my work is useful to the community, that I’m useful for something. It is rewarding work.

It’s also to break down prejudices about the profession that I launched an Instagram account. By advertising my profession, I want to help break the codes. In my opinion, our sector of activity is not yet sufficiently known, nor sufficiently praised. It happens that they compliment us on the street, but they also put pressure on us, insult us, as can happen when we block a road to collect garbage cans. There’s no point in honking – we’re not having fun, we’re doing our job. And, unfortunately, we can’t move the truck with every car that comes along. You just have to bear your pain with patience. In general, when people are polite and patient, we do our best to get them through as quickly as possible.

A male sector by choice

It’s true, the sector in which I work is very masculine. But it’s a choice. I love working in this environment, I find men cooler and ultimately quite open. My colleagues have no problem working with women. They often find them more manic, more hardworking, and more involved in their work.

As a rare woman in this profession, I’ve never encountered misogyny issues. So, of course, sexism exists — we’re not going to lie to each other. I’ve heard phrases like “women have no strength” before. But when you prove them wrong, even the men I work with know how to admit their wrongdoings.

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I have a very telling anecdote on this subject: when I started collecting in 9, they used to put a man and a woman behind the dumpster, “in case there was a problem”. However, with a colleague, we insisted on working together as we got along so well. We knew we could handle it. One of our bosses has finally agreed to comply with our request. Result, while it was strike day and all the bins returned late, ours was the first to return from the collection! The funny thing is that it was also driven by a woman. It was our little revenge, we showed them that women could handle themselves very well when we gave them the opportunity!

Encourage vocations

How to make this job attractive to women? This is precisely a topic we discuss with the Housekeeping and Water Department.

I think it is important to underline thisbeing a garbage collector is by no means a demeaning job and one can also derive a certain satisfaction from it. It’s a job where you never get bored, a useful job. It is also important to remember that times can be agreed upon. There are so many different time slots that even if you have a family life, you can find times that will work for you.

For those who don’t like the dumpster, there are other possible jobs and above all, full of development opportunities – I am the proof. So don’t be afraid to start at the base to understand the job and then level up to help the next ones evolve.

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