Fresno looks to cash in on garbage deal

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nearly 8,000 businesses and apartments in Fresno have their trash picked up by city crews. Under a plan being pushed by Mayor Ashley Swearengin private companies would buy the city's trucks and equipment but operate those trucks with just one employee, instead of two, as the city now does.

City Council Member Lee Brand hasn't taken a position on the proposal, but said it's easy to see how the private companies could cut costs. "Two drivers to one, it's a huge savings in labor." He said.

But that would put 120 city employees out of work. They've protested the plan in the past. Marina Magdelano is from the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents most of the affected city workers. "We're against this whole process because our people have been doing this since the inception of the city. Since they started collecting garbage. You can't beat that record."

City Council Member Blong Xiong has reservations. He says the commercial waste department pays its own way and does a good job. "Is there a different agenda on this issue? Because we're talking about efficiency. As far as I've heard this is one of the best departments in the city. It's providing an excellent service. It's received tons of awards and recognition, so if that's the case, why the effort."

It's not a new effort. A similar plan was floated eight years ago, but failed. While the private haulers have indicated they might hire 50 or 60 of the laid off city workers, that's no consolation for long time city employees like Eric Bowman. "I don't understand the tradeoffs here. The people are going to lose their jobs families are going to be uprooted."

If the city decided to cut costs by laying off employees in the garbage department, under state law they'd have to lower rates to their customers. But by privatizing it and collecting a two million dollar franchise fee they can spend that money in other places. The City Council is expected to vote on this next month.


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