Female trash collector makes inroads in male-dominated field

It was a windy and bitter cold night in Queens and Mayra Cruz was just starting the graveyard shift hauling garbage for Avid Waste. By now this is old hat for the 29-year-old woman who drags dumpsters, pulls levers, and lifts bags of trash some 60 pounds into the hopper.

Her fluorescent work jacket isn't the only thing that stands out about Cruz. She is also working in an industry that was once completely dominated by men.

Avid Waste owner Ben Velocci says most of his employees are men but they have accepted Cruz very enthusiastically and treat her like "one of the guys." With one exception to that, he says. The company has two garages. The men's locker room is in one, the women's locker room is in the other.

It's not like Cruz had to do this. She has a degree in audio engineering. But her family is in the business. Her stepdad took her on routes as a kid, so she decided to give it a shot and is happy that she did.

Cruz has been working here since December and has already been promoted and has had two pay increases. Now that she has her CDL license, she hopes that the next step is in the driver's seat, which pays at least $70,000. For someone like Cruz, who is hauling 30,000 pounds of trash a week, it is a nice change of pace, too.