Yolanda pumps iron to prepare for N.Y.C. garbage-collector test

Yolanda Mitchell of Queens wants to become a sanitation worker. She's one of 2,882 women who have qualified to take the physical test being given this year by New York City.

And since garbage collection is indeed a physically challenging job -- and the last all-male uniformed service in the city -- Ms. Mitchell is receiving help in preparation for the test.

The Center for Women in Government, part of the State University of New York at Albany, has put together a six-week physical-training program for women planning to take the test.

Nancy Perlman, executive director of the center, says 1,200 women wanted to join the program, but there were funds for only 125. If some women are ready after three weeks, they will be scheduled to take the test, and more women will be allowed into the program, she says.

``We did the same thing for candidates for New York City firefighter jobs, and it made an enormous difference,'' says Ms. Perlman. She notes that 92 percent of the women who took the training passed the physical test, compared with 22 percent of women not trained.

``It's great; these women are determined,'' says Perlman, who notes that 90 percent of the current trainees are minorities. For many of these women the salary, benefits, and job security of a sanitation worker are an important opportunity, she says. Female candidates' backgrounds range from one who has a master's degree to others who have been on public assistance.

Nationally, according to the center, there are few women in the field of sanitation. There are female sanitation workers in San Diego, Seattle, and Madison, Wis.

Ms. Mitchell, who currently works for the city's traffic department, says she's confident about her ability.

``Thanks to the free training, I am toning up my muscles,'' she says.

Why does she want the job? ``I enjoy working with people,'' says Mitchell, who directs traffic. And, she notes, it would mean a salary increase. The starting salary for a sanitation worker will be around $20,000 a year.

Is she concerned about the attitudes of the men she will be working with if she qualifies and is chosen?

``They'll accept us,'' she says, although she admits it may take some effort. The center's program addresses only physical preparation, but Perlman says the Sanitation Department is working with the current work force and plans to support female workers.

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