Let the good times roll
Portland bin men (and women) gathered for a graduation ceremony on a recent sizzling Friday afternoon to celebrate Portland's new, more inclusive waste collection workforce. Eleven people completed the Waste and Recycling Driver Training, a 12-week course that grants a Commercial Driver License Class B, good for driving garbage trucks and dump trucks. They met at Arrow Sanitary Service near the airport. After the walking ceremony there were cookies and networking with hiring managers from some of the 10 haulage companies that serve Portland.
The free course was put together by Worksystems, First Interstate Trucking and several waste haulage companies under the banner of the Portland Hauler Association (PHA). The course targeted BIPOC men, women and nonbinaries. The first cohort included 82% Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and 16% female, 6% non-binary, participants.
Portland City commissioner Carmen Rubio's policy director Ricardo Lujan-Valerio spoke in her place, saying "Rubio was frustrated with the slow pace of change in our city and state on so many long-standing racial disparities and injustice." He talked of her goal of having more BIPOC staff in her bureaus, which include the Bureau of Environmental Services, which covers trash and recycling.
Seven grand course, free
A trainer from First Interstate Trucking, Bryon Trent, called the graduates to the stage and said a little about each one.
Trent told the Business Tribune that this was a rare chance to get into an industry which pays a family wage. He said classes for a CDL often cost $7,000, making them inaccessible for many Portlanders.
The course is financed with funds provided through Worksystems from the U.S. Department of Labor, PHA, and sponsoring organizations.
Trent said of the course, "It's to get your CDL license class, it could be a dump truck, it could be a garbage truck, it could be a box truck. But these people here (Arrow and other members of the PHA) are the ones that are funding the program, so we try to interact with them as much as possible."
The classes began with two weeks on Zoom, learning the rules of the road and safety. Then they learned how to drive trucks around the parking lot, and finally hit the road with a qualified commercial driver.
Dump trucks usually carry dirt away from construction sites, while garbage trucks pick up bins and dumpsters, empty their contents and drive to a waystation or landfill.
Jenny Reeves is a former massage therapist who was looking to get into haulage long term. Her dad drove trains in Colorado and her uncle flew planes.
"I have always had a little fantasy of dodging out and being a truck driver. I was a massage therapist for 20 years," she told the Business Tribune.
She was leaving massage not because it was hard on her own body.
"I have a personal trainer certification and I have awesome self-care tools."
She was leaving because too many clients don't take any care of their own bodies, which renders her work less effective.
"I started to feel like a housekeeper, having to do things for people that they just can't quite do for themselves, stretching and sometimes relaxing."
Reeves was excited to do residential garbage collection, for a long time.
"It's very stable," she said. The shifts are four tens and the pay starts at $25 an hour.
"The hard bit is you always have to be alert about what's going on around you," she said of the B Class driving. "Kids like to come out and check you out."
'My next machine'
Richard Holmes got a huge cheer when he went up for his certificate, from his wife and three kids, his colleagues and teachers. He is proof of the second chance strategy: Until recently he was in a state prison in Madras, and is now in a prison reentry program. He found the course through his caseworker.
Holmes said the program was challenging.
"After we got our permit we drove the streets. It was all hands-on truck driving, everyone took it well. I always loved operating machines, like forklifts, this is my next machine."
Holmes, 49, had heard the pay starts at $22 an hour and goes up to the $30s with benefits and a 401(k) pension. He said it's hard work, in terms of concentration.
"You have to be hyper alert, you can't just lean back with one hand and drive. We're constantly looking around, monitoring air pressure and oil pressure. With air brakes, if you lose air pressure you've got to stop the truck."
Driving a garbage truck is part of his plan to go on the straight and narrow.
"I don't plan on going anywhere near Madras ever again. I might fly over in an airplane."
Haulers from the PHA sent recruiters in polo shirts to meet the talent. Two of the younger graduates, Amos Katumba and Trino Ramos, were standing around with their certificates after the networking session had ended.
Katumba, who moved here to Tigard from Uganda three years ago, said, "I'm so happy to be given an opportunity to be part of this."
He used to work for a company that manufactures medical equipment. "But this will be a very good job with great benefits. And I am passionate about this kind of a job."
Ramos, of Gresham, worked for the cement mason's union but is now on unemployment.
Asked what they would do if they found something sad in the trash like a dead kitten, Ramos said "I'd take it out of the trash and put it on the side next to the trash can. Actually, they did warn us to be careful about people. There can be people sleeping in the big trash cans."
Katumba said "Dead kitten? It's already dead."
He added that the key points of the training were about safety for the other road users.
"You must be sure you have full control of the truck, it's so big it can be very fatal." Asked if he thinks he could get a job, Ramos said Arrow might be a good place to work.
"I've never practiced on a dump truck, but once you've been in one, you see them everywhere," Ramos said.
Bryon Trent, the instructor with Interstate Trucking Academy said garbage hauler is considered a good job. It is now done mostly alone. Trucks pull up alongside the bins and a mechanical arms hoists, empties and replaces the bin. If the bins are in the right place the driver often does not have to leave the cab.
"They want to give people opportunities to get in the industry and have job stability, and to live a good life. And there haven't been that many opportunities for minorities and women
This gives us an opportunity to get their license without having to quit their job."
Trent said he believes most of them will get haulage jobs.
"Before they got their license, they wouldn't be able to meet any of these people," he said of the hiring managers.
As for why there are so many haulers and yet so much garbage on the streets, Trent said, "They have contracts where they go pick up garbage and they're not going to pick up garbage for free. But they have another separate group that goes around Portland cleans up those areas."
The cookie platters were largely untouched and after some networking, the event broke up and people drifted away in their trucks and mini vans.
Trent added, "I am happy that these guys completed the program and I am so grateful to be able to teach young men and women something that will benefit them and for the rest of their life, hopefully: steady income, steady job, feed your family."
The next course begins July 12.
The hands-on driver training program includes:
CDL Training Container Moving Customer Service Skills
Safety Training Hauler Specific Inspections Route Sheet Reading
Truck Cleaning Using Hydraulic Hand Controls
A Community-Centered Training Program
PHA is working with Interstate Trucking Academy on driver curriculum, and partnered with Worksystems, Inc. to lead recruitment through its WorkSource Portland Metro Centers and a network of more than 20 community-based organizations with strong connections and a history of workforce development with women and people of color. PHA companies contributed funding and donated automated garbage trucks to use for training.
Who to call about trash removal? These haulers cover the Portland area:
Arrow Sanitary Service
Portland Disposal & Recycling
Wacker Sanitary Service
City Sanitary Services
Walker Garbage Services
Elmer's Sanitary Service
Sunset Garbage Collection
Heiberg Garbage & Recycling
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.