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Waste Management worker fired after 32 years sees customer support

March 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sanitation workers haul off stuff we don't want. But in Manhattan Beach, customers of Waste Management say one trash man consistently left treasure behind.

"He was sweating so much from the running around he did as a worker. I've never seen anybody like that in any job," said Waste Management customer Ron Crawford.

Crawford is referring to Gilberto Santillan. After 32 years, Waste Management dumped Santillan, and now hundreds of his former customers are rallying to get him reinstated. More than 700 have written letters to Waste Management and city leaders who contracted the company.

"I know that this is the largest number of letters that the city of Manhattan Beach has received in the history of the city regarding any issue," said Santillan supporter John Taylor.

The company won't say specifically why he was fired, but did release a statement saying:

"Waste Management personnel reviews employee discipline and termination decisions carefully and thoroughly, keeping in mind our obligation to the communities we serve to operate safely and efficiently."

Santillan acknowledged four safety mishaps in his personnel file that he says doomed him. Santillan's incidents include a basket lift that malfunctioned due to what he says was a mechanical failure, a dent on someone's door left open, a cracked utility cover and cracked stucco on a building.

Yet supporters took home video of another operator now working Santillan's route, driving down narrow streets often lined with pricey cars. The video shows the truck taking several tries to turn one corner.

"When you look through his personnel file, which he obtained, there is nothing there that would indicate he is an unsafe driver," Taylor said.

Ironically, it was Santillan's popularity that helped the company win its current contract. Last March, Santillan went door to door on his route, urging customers to head to city hall to support Waste Management. They did -- and in droves. According to published records, the city council rejected lower bids and renewed with Waste Management because of its superior customer service.

Now many residents want to take back the support of Waste Management, and Santillan just wants to work again.

"I love my job," he said.

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