Latinx Career Diaries: What It’s Really Like Making $100,000 as a Water Treatment Facility Operator

Art by Alan López for Remezcla

As of 2016, Latinos make up 16.8 percent – 26.8 million – of the workforce in the United States. While there are plenty of statistics about the industries (tech, legal, STEM, and many more) where our communities are sorely underrepresented and how the wage gap disproportionately affects Latinas (and other women of color), we wanted to learn more about what it’s like to pursue your career goals as a Latino today.

That’s why we’re launching Latinx Career Diaries. A few times a month, we’ll offer you a peek into what it’s like to work a certain job as a Latino. The goal is to give you an idea of what people with your similar experiences earn, help you pick up some negotiation tactics, and provide guidance if you’re embarking on your career.

Submit a questionnaire here, and check out more Latinx Career Diaries here.

These responses have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Age: 36

Background: Honduran/European

Preferred Pronoun: He

Job Title:  Water Treatment Facility Operator

Years at Current Job: 5+ years

Location: Santa Rosa, California

Years of Experience: 7 years

Salary: $100,000+. It all depends if I “choose” to work any overtime or not.

Negotiation Process: I was offered the position, and because I had some outside experience, I was able to negotiate starting salary just a bit higher than the bottom. This is a union position, and negotiating a salary when you are the most qualified candidate is something people always decline to do. I learned that I could do that based on what the starting salary was. It was about the same I was making somewhere else, and I just asked. If you never ask, NO is always going to be the answer.

Benefits: Everything. 100 percent health insurance paid for my work for my entire family. I pay nothing for great healthcare coverage. I have a retirement pension (CalPers), a flex spending account for tax savings for both my kids’ school tuition, and a supplemental retirement fund (self funded with a match by employer) I also get paid holidays, and have an option to choose pay or time off for holidays, or overtime. If I am scheduled to work a holiday, I get paid for 14 hours extra for my time, along with regular salary. Not bad for a guy with no college degree. We also have a union, which means union representation and protections should you have an issue with your employer. I strongly believe in unions; my wife and I belong to one, and my parents did, too.

Cost of living in your city based on your salary: I can afford the cost of living in my city, but not at the level I would like. My wife and I both have incomes over $100,000, and living in the Bay Area is very expensive. The fires last year in Santa Rosa, California took about 4,300 homes, and that made the already pinched housing crisis, even worse. We have been searching for a home for over a year.

How I Broke In: I met an older Latino fellow who was talking about what he did for a living, how his schedule worked, and how it was a high-paying job for people without college degrees. I found a certificate program at my local junior college, and completed it. It was something new, but it also looked good entering this field as a trainee, and with some educational experience, it definitely made me stand out. Out of around 300 applicants, and 12 final candidates, I got the job. It was a career that I had long attempted to get into, and finally got my chance. There’s actually math, computer, laboratory testing you have to do to even move forward in the selection process, and my education helped me breeze past the testing portion.

Why I’m here today: I followed through. In the college certificate program, I saw a lot of people just give up, wait for the next semester to take the other courses, etc. I also saw people not show up to take their state exams. This job requires an actual California State Examination, and when you go for higher certifications, job experience is needed. I saw many people fail and give up.

Responsibilities: Maintaining a water treatment facility, which receives untreated water and adds chemical treatments and filtration to provide safe clean drinking water to an area of about 84,000 residents. Testing the water, maintaining the distribution of water to storage tank reservoirs, and ensuring that we are providing the safest, most palatable water we can.

What I like Most/Least: What I like most is my hours. I work 12-hour shifts, three days a week. While they are long, and I have a commute, I am off four days a week. I do work one weekend day, but I am able to spend time with my children and do many things that I never could do with my parents. My parents worked long hours, and we never spent family time. Family time is very important, and being present is a big thing for kids. The thing I like least about my job is that once a year, I have to work a rotation of graveyard shifts for 12 weeks. Being on graveyards takes a toll on the body, and the mind, but I can’t complain because I have been fortunate to have a career that pays well and I have lots of time off.

Diversity: Surprisingly, it’s diverse. At first, I was wondering if I would even get the job based on who is always doing the interviews, but half of the operators in my division are Latinos.

Growth Potential: Since I am in a small organization, yes and no. I have turned down other positions at other organizations based on the hours. Luckily now, I have the income, and I can pick and choose where I would like to go when the positions become available.

What I wish I Knew Before: I wish I knew and studied more about wastewater – that seems to be the future, and it pays a little more.

Final Thoughts: I would like anyone and everyone to pursue a career in water technologies. It’s the one job that pays high, and you won’t ever be replaced by a robot.