Daley moves to privatize in final weeks

By Alexandra Kukulka, Contributing Writer

With two weeks left in office, Mayor Richard M. Daley is pushing for one last initiative before he steps down on May 16, the same day Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and the new City Council are sworn in. Daley wants to privatize Chicago’s recycling program to save the city money.

The recycling privatization could provide a 20 to 25 percent savings to taxpayers by hiring private companies to do the work, according to a statement released by the Department of Streets and Sanitation. However, the Union Laborer’s Local 1001, which is fighting the potential deal, disagrees, citing a loss of city jobs and taxpayer revenue.

The union held a hearing on April 25 to discuss problems with privatizing recycling. A second hearing will be held on May 20 on whether to privatize or continues debating the issue.

“The city collects recyclables and then sells them off to recycling centers,” said Lou Phillips, business manager of Local 1001. “Last year, there was a [city] profit of $1.2 million to sell [recyclables] off. This year, it’s $3 million. So if [recycling] is privatized, the companies get the profit [from] recycling, whereas the city can do it themselves and maintain a work force.”

During the hearing, Local 1001 representatives presented their case in front of a panel that comprised one spokesperson from the city, one neutral party and one member

from the union, according to Phillips.

“There are a lot of flaws in the recycling [system],” Phillips said. “[The city] doesn’t have a back up plan and they are awarding all the recycling to companies that placed bids for the area, which is worth $3 million.”

Chicago will be firing sanitation workers who currently handle recycling for the city and replacing them with workers from the suburbs, according to Patrick McDonough, state plumbing inspector and an investigator for the city.

“Here is the biggest problem: [The Daley administration] keeps throwing out these big ideas and they aren’t giving us much information about it,” said McDonough, who’s a renowned whistleblower who exposed such past Chicago deals as the Hired Truck scandal.

According to McDonough, having sanitation trucks with two sections, one for recycling and one for trash, would be the best way to solve the problem of outsourcing and increase fuel efficiency.

“My idea would be to use the existing work force, so [the city] doesn’t have to rehire anyone and it would save fuel [by using] one truck,” McDonough said.

Privatization, the transfer of ownership of a government-owned service to a company that specializes in a particular area of expertise, has proven controversial in the past. According to the Department of Streets and Sanitation, the goal is to ensure that any potential outsourcing provides a service while saving taxpayer resources.

“I think there will have to be very serious enforcement and oversight to these private companies,” said Mike McNamee, director of the Resource Center, Chicago’s first and largest nonprofit recycling company. “The city will need to institute oversight to make sure that all the materials are actually getting recycled.”

According to a 2009 study, titled “Cleaning Up Our Trash,” by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 17 percent of recyclables are consistently thrown out because of single stream recycling—the system Chicago currently uses. Single stream recycling is when glass, paper and plastic recyclables are thrown into one truck without being separated, causing some materials to become unrecyclable.

Currently, the Department of Streets and Sanitation services 240,000 households out of the 600,000 in Chicago, said Rosa Calderon, Department of Streets and Sanitation representative, in an email.

“I think that more single-family houses will get their blue carts [if privatization is finalized] so that they can get recycling in front of their houses like 80 percent of the country,” McNamee said.

Eight bids were received in response to the solicitation, including one from Waste Management, but no final decision has been made on who will get the job. The city is being divided into six sections for recycling, and Waste Management has submitted a competitive bid for all six of these sections, according to Bill Plunkett, a Waste Management representative.

Other recycling companies that have submitted bids include Brackenbox Roll off Service, 2300 W. 167 St.; Pratt Recycling, 6441 N. Ravenswood Ave.; and Flood Brothers Disposal, 4827 W. Harrison St.

Before any recycling company can be given the job, the city must follow the Laborers Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is a process of negotiations between employers and their bosses aimed at regulating working conditions.

The city is moving forward as if the privatization deal is done, which is problematic if there are flaws and workers are getting fired, McDonough said.

“The city is getting nothing out of [the deal] other than giving up rights for the recycling and paying the bill,” Phillips said.