Sweeping streets to six figures: the rise of one of Sanitation’s highest-ranking female bosses

By Faye Penn

More than two decades ago, one Shari Pardini of Fresh Meadows, Queens, signed up for the DSNY civil service exam to encourage her fiance to take it.

Then she got called, and he didn’t.

At the time, the FIT grad was in her late 20s, working as an assistant buyer at a department store, aspiring to a position where she would go on international buying trips. But the reality of ordering in bulk from an office suite was less glamorous.

“I didn’t know anybody in city service,” she recalls. But, “through the grapevine you hear about security, the pension after 20 years.”

“Everybody thought I was crazy. It happens to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

In 1993, Pardini joined the department as a sanitation worker in Brooklyn, servicing Brownsville and Ocean Hill.

“Looking back, I was 92 pounds. I’m 5’2”, lifting garbage is not an easy task for me. But I figured I’d give it a shot and see what else they offered, and I got lucky along the way.”

Now, she’s a four-star chief, Director of the Operations Management Division, and the highest ranking uniformed female employee in department history. We spoke with Pardini about working her way up through the ranks, and how there’s a lot more to being one of New York’s Strongest than collecting trash.

What was it like when you first started as a sanitation worker? Was it hard to get used to the job? To the smell?

Absolutely. I’d come from the corporate world, wearing a suit to work, going to an office. Just waking up in the morning, making 6 AM roll call was a big transition. I was sore every day I did trash collection. Smelling maggots for the first time was not my favorite day, but that’s part of the job. I quickly transferred out and became a broom operator at a garage located in Queens, driving a mechanical sweeper. I also did snow removal; my first winter on the job I did 30 days straight on a salt spreader and plow.

You’ve worked your way up the ranks. What was that process like?

In order to advance to the next level of supervisor you have to take a test. It’s not appointed. I took that and made supervisor. The same goes for superintendent. I took that test a few years later and made superintendent. To make a one-star, or deputy chief, that’s an appointed position. Once you get those two tests under your belt you have the potential to make deputy chief based on your merit. Then I was appointed assistant chief, full chief and now director.

Can you talk about your responsibilities with your current role?

I’m the director of the Operations Management Division (OMD). We track everything you’d think of to track and handle special projects, new programs, roll-outs. During snow, my group manages the GPS command center.

How have you helped make snow removal more efficient over the years?

Last snow season we launched a system called BladeRunner, a customized GPS system that lets supervisors know where their trucks are, if they’ve dumped or not, all types of information. That application marries to PlowNYC, which uses information from the GPS systems to show residents where we’ve been.

“Everybody thought I was crazy. It happens to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Any advice for women who want to pursue a career at DSNY?

Don’t think of the job as only being collecting trash. We have many different facets at DSNY. There’s a job for everybody. There’s different skill sets throughout the department. The commissioner of the department is a female and is definitely a strong role model for others in the department.

Can you talk about pay ranges and other opportunities? What should women know about working at the DSNY?

Like with other uniformed careers in NYC, the Sanitation Worker salary is based on union contracts, with raises given after certain predetermined number of years on the job. The current starting base salary for a Sanitation Worker is more than $37,000, with the first raise after six months on the job. After those first six months, raises occur yearly, until the highest base salary of more than $77,000 is reached after five and a half years of service. Sanitation Workers are eligible to earn overtime, along with other financial incentives. Higher level uniformed positions receive a “six figure” base pay.

Don’t think of the job as only being collecting trash. We have many different facets at DSNY. There’s a job for everybody.

What’s your favorite part about your position as Chief?  

I wholeheartedly feel I have the support of the execs from the department to develop tools and programs and pilots that I think would be beneficial for the dept. They give me the latitude. That’s definitely the best part of this job.

To apply for a position at the NYC Department of Sanitation, visit the DSNY website!