LUKE: Yup, it’s tough when the universe is against you. That’s like taking on the Manhattan Garbage Union.
Luke refers to the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, called “New York’s Strongest”. Workers at New York City’s Sanitation Department are responsible for collecting trash, and for clearing the streets of snow during winter.
The strength of their union became apparent in February 1968 when they went on strike for nine days demanding higher wages, leading to 100 000 tons of trash on the streets, with piles of garbage everywhere [pictured]. The strike was ended when state governor Nelson Rockefeller agreed to the sanitation workers receiving a slightly higher wage than they otherwise would have, and further arbitration.
Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis that year was in support of the sanitation workers, and it inspired the sanitation workers in Memphis to launch their own strike, just days after the one in New York ended. The Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association claim Martin Luther King Day (16th January) as a holiday each year, in recognition of Dr King’s support for their cause.
There were other strikes by the sanitation workers during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but they were usually resolved within a day or two, the city having learned its lesson that you have to take care of the people who collect your trash.