This local sanitation worker is in it for the long haul. Seriously.
At 75, Department of Sanitation diehard Joe Caggiano is the oldest uniformed service employee in all of New York City. Age hasn’t slowed down this lifelong Staten Islander, whose 52 years of sanit service are a record-setter.
“I like what I’m doing,” Caggiano told the Daily News, after a day of work in his home borough on a front-loading truck collecting cardboard and paper recyclables.
Finding pleasure — and occasionally a treasure, like a pruning saw for trees around his house — has been a constant since he joined the department on Jan. 3, 1966.
Caggiano spent his early days drafting signs, charts and maps. His work has brought him to various parts of the city. That includes Times Square in Manhattan in the late ’60s.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “There was always something going on.”
For that amiable attitude, unflagging spirit and dedication to the job and the people he affects because of it, Caggiano is nominated for a New York Daily News Hometown Heroes award. A colleague noted Caggiano’s exceptional service over a long career in which no job was beneath — or beyond — him. Like the time a senior citizen called Staten Island’s borough office after a heavy snowfall and and said he couldn’t shovel his walkway.
No problem, the man was told, and Caggiano was dispatched.
The senior citizen called back later and, while laughing, said the sanitation man the borough sent was even older than he was.
For Caggiano, it’s all in a day’s work, and the daily grind agrees with him.
“The job has changed so much,” he said. “We used to put everything in one truck. Now there are different trucks for everything.”
His can-do attitude has been a constant.
“I like to stay active. My work makes me happy — all year long,” he added. “In winter, I like clearing snow so people can get to work and go shopping. If people can’t get out of their houses, the city loses money.”
Thinking big-picture is a Caggiano trademark, according to colleagues who applaud his encouragement and life lessons. One of them is that when you are invited somewhere, you should open the door with your elbows. It’s not about germs. It’s about never arriving empty-handed.
“Joe teaches the importance of sharing with others when you can,” said a Sanitation spokesman.
Leave it to a man who’s made a life of hauling unwanted junk to understand the value of things you can bring to the table.
But the modest Caggiano doesn’t necessarily see himself as heroic.
“I try to do the best job I can,” he said.
His job longevity has surprised even him. When he started in 1966, he told his dad – who was also a sanitation worker – “I’m not putting in a day over 20 years.”
Two decades on the job would have made him eligible in 1986 for retirement and a full pension. Instead, he’s working on his third set of 20 years.
“Time goes fast,” said the husband, father and “people person” who lives eight minutes from the house he grew up in. “I know who most of the people are on my route. And they know me by first and last name. We talk about our personal lives.
“In summer, they’ll bring out bottles of water for me and my partner,” Caggiano continued. “In winter, I try not to bury cars in snow.”
When he’s not on the truck, Caggiano gets revved up about his personal passion.
“I like working on cars,” he said. That includes his 1954 Chevy, ’74 Cadillac (“it’s got 5,000 miles on it”), ’78 Chevy and a ’97 Town Car. A ’94 GMC Jimmy is his daily wheels to work.
As his 76th birthday in November approaches, Caggiano is the second-oldest person to work for the city’s Sanitation Department. The oldest retired at 79 in 2007.
For his part, Caggiano has no immediate plans to retire.
“It’s up to the dear Lord,” he said.