essential worker

The Daily Press has launched a series of interviews with essential workers who are working bravely and diligently to keep the Santa Monica community functioning.

Paul Jamar is a sanitation worker who began working for the City on an as needed basis in 2009 and ‘worked his tail off’ to become an equipment operator. Since the start of the pandemic he has had to work without a sideman, carrying all trash cans and operating his truck by himself—work he describes as ‘back breaking’. As Paul is constantly in contact with toxic substances he worries about exposing his wife and mother, who both have cancer, to COVID-19.

Paul faces these challenges and stresses every day without receiving any additional compensation, yet somehow maintains an exceedingly positive attitude. He says he still loves working in Santa Monica and greatly appreciates all the residents who take the time to thank him.

How has your job changed as a result of the pandemic?

Work has become hard for us because we don’t have a sideman anymore. I’ve been working by myself since COVID started in March and honestly it’s back breaking. Working with a sideman helps you pull out heavy bins, open doors, and use keys. We have a lot of blind spots on our truck, so they would be able to tell us if we could make a right turn, if somebody was going to walk by, or if a car was going to drive by while we are dumping the bins.

They were our other eyes and now we don’t have that, so we can have a lot more injuries and a lot more accidents. There is a lot of wear and tear on our bodies from pulling out these heavy bins each and every day. It’s a very big change and hopefully someday soon we can get our helpers back because we really need them. We have older guys going out by themselves and that takes a toll on your body, going home kind of broke up a little bit. We are still managing to get it done and come to work the next day because a lot of us like our jobs and are dedicated to our jobs.

How do you feel being an essential worker with high exposure to germs?

It’s very scary because I have a wife at home who is terminally ill with cancer. I also have my mom who lives by herself in Compton and depends on me to help her go shopping and pay her bills and she also has cancer. I have a father who is a two time cancer survivor and has a tracheostomy in his throat so he can’t talk.

Everyday all day is just the same; it’s stressful and it’s scary. People are dying out there and me and my coworkers, everything that we do is on the frontline. We are exposed to a lot of toxic dangerous things right now. Even though we have the proper PPE there is still a lot of stuff that we are out there touching and it’s scary because I can’t take that stuff home to my wife or my mom or my father.

Aside from losing a sideman how else has your work been impacted by COVID-19?

I had to adapt to the curbside seating outside. That was a challenge because when I went to dump some trash I was blocking Main Street and cars couldn’t go by or I was dumping trash next to where somebody was eating. I was getting a lot of negative reactions but I still had to do my job. I had to explain to people that this is the only place I can dump the trash; I have nowhere else to go.

What do you enjoy about your job?

While I’m out there I do enjoy the city. I really enjoy seeing the children waving at you, wanting you to do something for them like honk the horn or raise the bin up. That makes me feel a lot better knowing that I’m making somebody else happy. I’ve met a lot of people on my route that really make me happy. They come out and they speak to you, thank you, say ‘you’re doing a good job’.

What are you most looking forward to when the pandemic ends?

It seems like everybody is so tense because of this pandemic so I would love to get back to normal where everybody is laughing and having fun and you see the restaurants open and people gathering. It’s just kind of sad right now, but I’m looking forward to being happy again and seeing other people be happy.

What would you like people to understand about your job?

I hope the people reading this understand what we go through on a daily basis as sanitation workers and that the things that we do are not easy. If you see us in the alley please don’t give us a hard time by honking at us because we have a job to do. Help us out, give us a wave, tell us thank you, speak to us. We are trying to keep the city safe and clean.

Clara@smdp.com