City informs union of intent to contract out trash removal
Council to debate privatizing Toronto’s garbage collection
(Written for Town Crier Feb. 7)
Mayor Rob Ford is poised to deliver on another election promise, this time to privatize garbage collection.
“As you know I campaigned on contracting out garbage,” Ford said at a city hall press conference today. “Today is the first step in that procedure. We notified the union at 11 am that we will discuss contracting out in May.”
Ford added that he was taking this step to prevent the city suffering through another garbage strike as well as to save money and reduce the size of government.
“That’s what people elected us to do and that’s exactly what we will deliver on,” he said.
The city is looking to contract out three aspects of the current public service: daytime, residential curb-side collection west of Yonge Street to the Etobicoke border for about 165,000 homes (garbage collection in Etobicoke is already contracted out); collection of litter and recycling in all city parks and an additional 25 percent of the city’s litter vacuum operations to bring it up to 50 percent privatization.
The city will also look at having contingency collection services anywhere in Toronto, as needed such as during a strike.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong who chairs the Public Works and Infrastructure committee said this could save the city $8 million, later revealed by city staff to be $6 million in savings from contracting out curbside collection and $2 million from parks collection, litter vacuum and other associated savings.
Ford’s claims of savings were disputed by Mark Ferguson, president of Toronto Civic Employees’ Union 416 that represents garbage workers.
“You will hear the mayor and others cite a C.D. Howe Institute report, a right-wing think tank, citing… (savings of) $49 million a year,” said Ferguson.
During the campaign, the mayor said contracting out garbage could save $20 million and today the figure was $8 million, said Ferguson.
“This decision is not about money it’s about ideology and emotion,” he said. “Every measure that’s been done shows that Toronto’s in-house garbage collection is more cost effective than for profit companies can deliver.”
Ferguson cited a 2009 Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative report with info from city managers in 15 municipalities that pegs Toronto’s costs at $79 per tonne for residential garbage collection, which is the third lowest cost of the 15 municipalities surveyed.
“The cost to collect garbage in Toronto is 30 percent below the provincial average. This is a repeat result on the 2008 of the benchmark initiative,” Ferguson said. “So why contract out service that’s working well for residents and saving them money to boot?”
Ferguson further questioned the savings of contracting out given that any permanent city garbage employee would have to be redeployed in another public service job regardless of years of employment.
However, that goes against what Minnan-Wong told the earlier press conference. He said that only permanent employee with 10 or more years service with the city would be redeployed within the municipal workforce.
He said about 300 temporary positions, west of Yonge Street, are not protected in the contract and would be dealt with in this phase of privatization.
Ferguson said there’s about 250 temporary employees city wide that do the services the city’s looking to contract out.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said it’s about time the city took this measure.
“What’s happening today, in my opinion, should have happened in 1998,” said the former Etobicoke mayor. “When we came down here after amalgamation we’d already contracted out Etobicoke and knew it worked well and saved money and we could virtually guarantee the service.”
Councillor Shelley Carroll said there’s still a lot of unanswered questions.
“I’d be looking for the current state of collection and how does it compare to other cities … and is there any money to be saved. Is there any money to be lost?” she asked.
“We have made a huge investment in our fleet because we made a huge investment in diversion and the vehicles are tailor-made,” she said. “We (may) end up with a situation where we have a fire sale on (city) vehicles.”
She added that with privatization, “There’s no guarantee there’ll be no more strikes. They had a strike in Mississauga.”
The union will be invited to bid on any new contract, but Ferguson said the union is not an employer and doesn’t have its own fleet and so it will be virtually impossible for it to bid along side the private sector.
The city’s Solid Waste Management department will report back April 26 to the public works committee. The city will debate contracting out at the May 17-18 council meeting and the earliest changes could be in place is mid-2012. The current solid waste management union collective agreement expires at the end of 2011.
What do you think? VOTE in the online poll.