New York Times essay on the hazards of waste work 50 years after the Memphis Strike.

We have entered the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis Strike, and I wrote a piece for the New York Times about the hazards of waste work then and now.

The hazards facing people in this line of work have a long history — they inspired the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike of 1968. That walkout was set off in part by the deaths of two Memphis sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death by the hydraulic press of the truck they were riding on one rainy winter evening.

The strike, whose organizers demanded higher pay, the recognition of the workers’ union and safer working conditions, is often associated with the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis the day after delivering his “Mountaintop” speech in support of striking sanitation workers. But when we think about the strike, we should also remember that half a century after his death, the work Dr. King was focused on in the last days of his life remains unfinished.

Thanks to Jenee Desmond-Harris and Clay Risen for giving me space in the paper, and Chris Kindred for the accompanying illustration.

1 thought on “New York Times essay on the hazards of waste work 50 years after the Memphis Strike.

  1. Myron Alexander

    Mr Zimring,
    Thank you for your insightful piece. As a minority business owner in the waste management industry your essay resonated with me. As I am sure you are aware, urban communities are frequently underserved. They are the communities with the least environmental oversight, fewest employment opportunities and most limited access and exposure to innovative technologies that can help transform them. These facts are but a few of the reasons we formed OWARECO, LLC. We feel the access to innovative technologies can be environmentally, socially and economically transformative for urban communities; communities that are often overlooked or by-passed by big businesses. However, lack of diversity and inclusion in the waste management has, in my opinion, led to stagnation of job growth due to the resistance of dominant players in the industry coupled with a lack of will and influence by local government agencies and departments entrusted to lobby on the behalf of new and innovative MWBE’s. Ultimately, the consumers of many waste management goods and services are shortchanged and more specifically underserved communities of color bare the brunt of the industry’s inefficiencies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s