With over 50 years of service at the City of Memphis, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) honored Elmore Nickelberry and Cleophus Smith for their dedication to the solid waste industry during an awards ceremony at WASTECON.
Employed at the Memphis Department of Public Works during the Memphis sanitation worker’s strike in 1968, Nickelberry and Smith serve as a reminder of this important event in the industry’s past and the progress that still needs to be made regarding worker safety.
“It was an honor to meet Nickelberry and hear about both men’s years of service. Many Americans are unaware that when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, that he was there because of a sanitation worker strike over safety conditions,” said David Biderman, SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO. “Although basic working conditions have improved, we can and must do more to protect the hard-working men and women who collect our waste and recyclables on a daily basis.”
In the wake of the strike, the “I Am a Man” slogan and Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, Nickelberry and Smith continued their careers in solid waste collection, serving as models of resilience and devotion in the face of opposition.
“These two men have shown immense dedication to the state of Tennessee and the solid waste industry through their long careers with the City of Memphis,” said Becky Caldwell, President of SWANA’s Tennessee Chapter and Solid Waste Program Manager for the Greater Nashville Regional Council. “I am proud that we are highlighting worker safety at WASTECON through honoring the contributions of Nickelberry and Smith.”
At WASTECON, SWANA’s largest event helping solid waste directors plan sustainable futures for their communities, safety has been a focus, with multiple meetings, speakers and sessions promoting new technology and industry initiatives.