CFL News
October 19, 2011

City employees try to beat out private contracters for recyling work

Thanks to routing changes and perfect attendance, city employees are holding their own against private contractors in the high-stakes competition for the right to collect Chicago’s household recycling.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Fran Spielman

Thanks to routing changes and perfect attendance, city employees are holding their own against private contractors in the high-stakes competition for the right to collect Chicago’s household recycling.

City crews were apparently so efficient coming out of the gate, they started the first week of the competition with 22 trucks and needed just six by Friday. That freed up 16 trucks for routine garbage collection.

Week two of the six-month competition was a near repeat. City crews started off with 22 trucks and needed eight by Friday, shifting 14 trucks to regular garbage.

Routing and other logistical changes — like beginning and ending the day at the parking station instead of the ward yard — have helped. But so has a zero rate of absenteeism in a Department of Streets and Sanitation famous for it.

With their jobs on the line, not a single laborer or truck driver has called in sick.

Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Local 1001, said he is more confident than ever that city employees will win the competition against a pair of private contractors: Waste Management and Sims Metal Management.

“We’re doing it smarter. They get in the truck together and go directly to an alley and start working, instead of a driver going 15 or 20 minutes to a ward yard and another 5-to-15 minutes to an alley,” he said.

At a meeting last week with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said week one showed a “different mindset, different attitude” among city employees.

“City workers came in hours early on Thursday. They said, `We want to win this.’ Anybody ever heard that before? They said,`We’ve got extra time. What else do you need?’ “ the mayor said.

Emanuel noted that Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne “was gonna send `em out with four trucks and they said, `No, no, no. We only need two’ because they didn’t want to add cost…. Competition is truly changing people.”

Earlier this year, an independent arbitrator questioned how private contractors “could realistically expect to produce the same level of service” with one-employee crews working 28 routes, compared to 45 routes with two-employee crews currently used by the city.

On Monday, Waste Management spokesman Bill Plunkett acknowledged that some of the company’s trucks are using two drivers while other trucks with a driver working solo have a supervisor trailing behind in a pick-up truck. “When you have an undertaking of this size and scope serving a major city with literally thousands of collection stops, there’s a learning curve,” Plunkett said, noting that the contract carries a fixed price.

Print