PAWTUCKET — The City Council lobbed a few questions at the administration and the Public Works director Wednesday night, but it appears clear that the privatization of city trash services will move along as the mayor and his administration have planned.
Wednesday’s City Council meeting was presented as the council’s chance to review the final draft contract for city sanitation services MTG Disposal. Yet, in his letter to the council accompanying the contract, Mayor Donald Grebien advised that it is his goal to have the final contract agreement signed on February 15.
Grebien noted that the year-long process had included extensive documentation of the bid proposals to the council members last fall and said that providing them now with copies of the final draft is “continuing this transparent process.”
The contract, worth about $11 million over five years, calls for MTG to institute a manual weekly trash collection and a recycling collection that is done every other week by a truck equipped with an automated arm that picks up the bins. Leaves and yard waste will also be collected the same as it is currently.
Once the agreement with MTG is signed, the company will have a period of eight weeks in which to phase in the program. The city administration has said that with the exception of a learning curve expected in the first few weeks as the new sanitation workers get used to the routes, they expect the transition to private trash collection to be essentially seamless.
However, the city’s sanitation workers, members of Local 1012, remain angry about the outsourcing, despite a pledge by the administration that no one will lose their job. Union President Augie Venice said that several different scenarios were presented to the administration showing how the trash collection could be done at least as cheaply or even more so by the city workers, but that the administration didn’t want to hear it.
Venice said the administration kept talking about needing new trucks and new recycling bins that the vendor, MTG, was going to provide. He maintained that the new bins are unnecessary and that the union had proposed to phase in the purchase of new trucks over time, but this, too, was shot down.
Venice said the union’s position is still “that we are continuing to negotiate with the administration as to the privatizing issue,” although he conceded that the window of opportunity appears to be closing quickly.
At the meeting, several councilors questioned Director of Administration Tony Pires and DPW Director Lance Hill about certain aspects of the contract with MTG, ranging from insurance liability and concerns about narrow streets to who customers should turn to for complaints.
“The DPW Director,” answered Hill, on the latter point. He added that there are numerous remedies in the contract to ensure that the vendor provides quality sanitation and recycling services.
Councilor John Barry questioned how the automated recycling truck will handle a road such as Garden Street that allows parking on one side. Hill replied that in certain cases, a worker might have to wheel over the bin to the truck’s automated arm to get around parked cars. However, he said there are no plans to institute any parking bans at this time.
Hill also said that MTG has agreed to do advertising in the local news media to get the word out to residents that they are the new vendor. Barry and Councilor Mark Wildenhain suggested that neighborhood meetings be held in all of the districts to allow residents to ask questions about the trash program, to which Hill and Pires agreed. Wildenhain added that he would like to see these meetings held “before the contract is signed.”
Of the privatization, Councilor Thomas Hodge said flatly, “I don’t like this,” but conceded that the administration “is moving forward with this contract anyway.” That being the case, he said he wanted to thank the city workers for their many years of service, and a majority of the council also followed with expressions of gratitude.
Councilor David Moran questioned Pires about the administration’s pledge that no sanitation worker would lose their job over the privatization. Pires reiterated that this was the case and that he expected workers to be able to exercise “bumping rights” to obtain another position in DPW or to be given an opportunity to work for the vendor. He said that through normal attrition and the savings from the privatization, he didn’t expect any city worker to have to be laid off as an end result.
Hill later told The Times that despite the union’s best efforts, there was significant savings for the city by going with a private vendor, both in the way of productivity and equipment. He declined to put a pricetag on the savings (which the administration has put as high as $4 million over the life of the five-year contract), but said that the new bins alone are worth $1.5 million and new trucks would have cost the city $250,000 each.
Venice, who was present at the meeting with a half dozen of so sanitation workers, said the thank-you from the city council “was a lot better than what the city administration gave us for our years of service.”