NYC Sanitation Worker Gets Dumped for Taking a $20 Tip
Forfeits $70,000+ job for accepting gratuity from grateful resident
There are all sorts of people you might tip from time to time: mail carriers, people who plow snow from your driveway, babysitters, or even sanitation workers who haul away the refuse of life. At least, you might tip the latter anywhere but within New York City.
Lenworth Dixon, a 25-year veteran of the sanitation department in New York, was forced into retirement, losing his $73,534-a-year job, and fined $1,500, according to the New York Post. Why? Because last September he took a $20 tip for going above and beyond what you might expect in most cities. However, when it comes to trash, unusual for most places could be ordinary for New York.
Back in September, Dixon was asked by someone on his usual route to remove a large amount of "bulk refuse," including wood and furniture, from in front of someone's house, according to the New York Daily News. A resident gave Dixon $20 for hauling the lot away.
Part of the job
According to the city's Department of Sanitation, there is free curbside removal of bulk items that are too large to place in a container or bag. Such items can include old lumber or tree limbs tied in bundles that are less than two feet high or four feet long. The department does say that if there's a "large quantity" of items, consumers should consider splitting the amount over several collection days.
That meant the extra work fell within the normal scope of Dixon's duties, and New York City law -- section 206, as listed by FindLaw -- has a particularly strict ethical code. Subsection 13 states: "No public servant shall receive compensation except from the city for performing any official duty or accept or receive any gratuity from any person whose interests may be affected by the public servant's official action."
A little thought explains why such a stance might be considered necessary. Gratuities could all too easily turn into bribes. Corruptly implemented, citizens already liable for local taxes for services might find themselves having to spend even more to grease the wheels to get what they've already paid for.
Not the first time
So there's a low tolerance for any breach of the statute. According to the New York Daily News, two sanitation workers were caught splitting a $10 tip in June last year. Each had to pay a $2,000 fine and then retire. So, the potential danger of accepting a tip was clearly known.
"He's not a thief, you know, they could give him a warning, but to fire him?" said Erma McPhatter, Dixon's landlady, to radio station WINS. "This sounds like a set up."
"It is a harsh punishment, but they don't tolerate taking money from the public," said Harry Nespoli, president of the Sanitation Workers Union, to the Daily News. "We're not allowed to take any money, even at Christmas time. We don't work for the post office."
Something unknown is how city officials learned of the tip in Dixon's case. According to Nespoli, the city sometimes places cameras on garbage trucks to see if workers are taking tips.
According to McPhatter, Dixon plans to leave New York and head south in April.
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Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman