In addition to picking up recycling and running Norwalk's transfer station on Crescent Street, Stamford-based City Carting & Recycling Inc. will now pick up residents' trash after the Common Council approved a 10-year contract with the company July 24.
Members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, AFSMCE Local 2405, have rallied in opposition to outsourcing trash collection for months, urging the Common Council in a letter July 19 to avoid "making a grave mistake Norwalk will suffer from for a long time" by rejecting or at least tabling a proposal to privatize public trash collection.
But council members approved the contract with a 9-6 vote.
Norwalk's Director of Public Works Hal Alford said that he is relieved that the contract, along with amendments to the city's existing contracts with the company, was approved.
"The real benefit is to the residents of the city," Alvord said. "It's not necessarily to us who have to manage the work. Although from our standpoint it would have been much more complicated had we not been authorized to outsource, because there were four vacancies in sanitation. We would have had to fill those. And we have eight vacancies in highways. ... We would not have been allowed to fill those positions because the budget assumes the savings from outsourcing.
"So that would mean we would continue to do inefficient garbage collection and much more expensive than necessary. For example, snowplowing would have been a real challenge. Filling pot holes in the spring would be a real challenge. Just cutting the grass would have been a lot more difficult."
Alvord called the council's decision a "win, win, win situation."
"Well, in my view it's very simple. On the first of October, City Carting will begin collecting garbage in the city of Norwalk," Alvord said. "In the first nine months, the city is going to save more than $600,000.
"Then on July 1, 2013, we are going to start single stream recycling and the other concessions; then the city will be saving at least $1.2 million per year. And the eight people who currently work sanitation will get a lump sum payment the day they transition into highways and they will continue to be employed by the city in similar positions in the highways division."
Alvord said that city officials have been wanting to move to single stream recycling for some time, but they wanted to do it in a way that was economically advantageous to the city.
"What we do now is dual stream recycling," Alvord said. "You put glass, plastic and metal in one container and paper in another container. With single stream, it goes in same container. Communities that have done single stream have found that the volume of their garbage decreased anywhere from 15 to 30 percent and the volume of recyclables goes up by an equivalent amount. And we sell our recyclables.
"We took advantage in the negotiation of trying to get some concessions on the other contract. So effective July 1, 2013, we will implement single stream recycling and City Carting will provide, at no cost to the city, the toters for the 33,000 properties in the city from which the recycling is collected."
In their letter to the Common Council, Local 2405 leaders Milt Giddiens, Hector DeJesus and Eric Montgomery pointed out that experience has shown them that over a relatively short period of time, once a service is privatized, costs rise and service diminishes. They said that is what convinced Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, when he was Stamford's mayor, to return work from contractors to municipal workers.
"But if the Council approves this contract, given its foolishly long duration of 10 years, it will hamstring mayors for a long time," the union leaders wrote.
Alvord discussed why the 10-year contract is warranted.
"The trucks used for dual stream recycling can't be used for single stream," he said. "So City Carting will have to purchase six new trucks. They will have to purchase the toters. They want to amortize the investment in that equipment over as long a period as possible because that reduces their costs and improves their balance sheet. Ten years is the period the city uses to amortize its capital costs.
"And the longer period they can capitalize their costs, the lower their price to the city."
City Carting got the contract over the Finocchio Brothers, Inc.
Members of the Local 2405 defended their decision to not submit a bid to the city in June in their letter.
"We firmly believe that being coerced into bidding for our own jobs is immoral and contrary to the principals that has made America so successful over the years," members wrote. "The compensation we receive in exchange for the work we do is negotiated and reduced to a contract. If the parties cannot agree at the table, the matter is settled in what is called `single issue last best offer arbitration.'
"What that means is both sides submit bids and the arbitrator chooses one bid or the other. That is how our current contract was settled. The city won on most of the issues, including those affecting how refuse is collected. ... Even though their exact bids were approved -- even though they won -- they immediately turned around and asked us to bid again against the lowered benefits they already secured. ... It is any wonder that we said no?"