Freddie Beverly, the much-loved trash collector who faced losing his job because of an accumulation of work-rule violations, may manage to escape the ax, thanks to the howls of protest raised by his devoted customers in a Los Angeles neighborhood near Ladera Heights.
Robert Wecker, assistant director of the city Bureau of Management-Employee Services, said last week that Board of Public Works commissioners will decide Beverly's fate on Wednesday and that four options are being considered: continued employment as a non-driving trash collector, retirement, resignation or termination.
Beverly, whose list of work violations range from not wearing his scalp guard and goggles to once tipping over a truck and stripping gear shafts, said he will accept a job as a non-driving trash collector if it is offered to him.
"I hate losing my route because I love my people, especially at Christmas 'cause they sure are good to me," said Beverly, 54, who credits his customers' support for putting off what was imminent termination. "I thought it was tremendous what everyone did for me. I really did appreciate it.
"If they bust me back to a (trash) loader, then I guess that is what I will do," he said. "I'd rather do that than go out with a termination. I still got a family to feed."
The past month has been eventful for Beverly. In late June, he told customers along his route that he was facing termination. That prompted resident Denver Shannon, an aerospace engineer, to organize about 60 neighbors to protest Beverly's firing and led to a story in The Times.
After the story ran, more letters and phone calls of support poured in--to City Council offices, the Board of Public Works and Mayor Tom Bradley. Beverly supporters attended hearings concerning Beverly's employment status. A TV station did a story about him as well.
But there were also some disturbing aspects to the case.
An anonymous caller identifying himself as an employee of the Board of Public Works called several of Beverly's supporters whose names appeared in The Times article and told them that Beverly was being terminated for cocaine and alcohol abuse on the job.
Shannon said he had no reason to think the caller was not bona fide, but he nonetheless went to a Board of Public Works hearing in July to present a petition of 60 signatures protesting Beverly's firing. Shannon told the commissioners that he was not aware of any alcohol or drug use by Beverly and still wanted to deliver the petition. He was promptly informed that Beverly never had any violation for drinking or cocaine use on his record.
Worse still were the telephone calls Shannon received from people who said they belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Brotherhood, white supremacist organizations. The conversations that took place were so disturbing to Shannon that he wouldn't allow his 3-year-old daughter to appear in broadcast news segments about Beverly and his supporters. Among other things, Shannon said, the callers referred in unprintable terms to Shannon's daughter, who in The Times article had called Beverly "her best friend."
"It was pretty intimidating," Shannon said. "Then I got a call from someone in a South-Central neighborhood group asking me if I needed protection. It all started getting pretty out of hand and crazy."
The public works commissioners, acknowledging that they had never encountered such a public response before, agreed to conduct their own investigation into Beverly's work history. They also attempted, apparently without success, to learn who had made the hoax phone calls.
Now there is a new trash collector working Beverly's old 63rd Street route, but his previous customers haven't forgotten him.
"This is a kind of American story," Shannon said. "There was support for the underdog, and it touched a chord in people. We got jerked around a little with the misinformation. Some of the neighbors really believed it and still believe it. But the neighborhood is still behind him. Freddie is one in a million.
"The experience did a nice thing for our neighborhood. There is a good feeling among us. It broke the ice. At a block party we had last weekend, all of the neighbors were asking about him, wanting to know what happened. Everyone was worried that he got canned, because we don't see him anymore."
The new trash collector is a good one, neighbors say. He is friendly and makes an effort to connect with the children. But he's not Freddie.
Said Shannon: "The first day Freddie was not on the route and Jessica (his daughter) heard the trash truck outside, she ran to the window like she always does and waved.
"And she said, 'Daddy, he didn't wave.' And I said, 'I know. That's because that isn't Freddie, sweetheart.' "