Queens Tribune: Op-Ed: Garbage Collection: A Solution In Search Of A Problem. By Kevin Barry
- September 1, 2016
- Posted by: NYRWM
- Category: Carting, Collection, Commercial Waste, Franchising, Green Building, New York, New York City, NYC Franchising, Op-Ed
Last week, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia released the results of a city-commissioned study that recommends that the city destroy the existing open and competitive commercial garbage collection market and replace it with a government-controlled franchise system.
The fact that Commissioner Garcia has led an effort to study the city’s private carting industry should matter to all New Yorkers, private citizens and business owners alike, and here’s why: your good-paying jobs will be eliminated, your taxes will go up and your right to choose the best and most cost competitive carting service will be eliminated.
Franchising would change the current way that commercial garbage is collected to a system in which private sanitation companies will have to bid for a contract to collect waste from designated city areas. This will result in some companies going out of business and hundreds of employees losing their well-paying jobs because fewer companies will be in control of all the work.
Through increased government regulations, a franchise tax of up to 20% and imposed mandates, a franchise system for carting in New York City would increase the cost of garbage removal for the city’s hundreds of thousands of businesses that already face skyrocketing commercial rents, have thin operating margins and are struggling to stay open. These are the very reasons why the city of Chicago rejected the idea.
What Commissioner Garcia wants to do is convince New Yorkers that a heavily regulated, bureaucratic, city controlled garbage franchise collection system will solve all of the so called ills of the current system without causing a great deal of collateral damage. Not true. As members of Local 339 who work for these local carting companies, we know the high customer satisfaction they have with their unique clientele. Their strength is in their ability to be adaptable and conform to the needs of each customer. With a one-size-fits-all franchise system for commercial waste removal, customer service and reliability will certainly suffer. Prices will surely go up as the ability to negotiate pricing goes down. The result will be the loss of small businesses from both the consumer side and industry, as well as hundreds of good-paying, meaningful careers for some of our most difficult to employ (on average, a driver makes more than $65,000 a year with many making more than $100,000).
What is really behind the city’s assault on the carting industry? Local 813 of the Teamsters Union. It is no coincidence that out of all the labor unions representing workers in the carting industry, only Local 813 of the Teamsters supports the franchise system proposed by the city.
That union thrived in the decades when the mob controlled the city’s carting industry. It is no wonder that it has seen its size drastically decline since the industry has been cleaned up and it has had to compete with honest unions and honest companies. Now this failing union is looking for a government bailout by latching on to franchising as its lifeline.
It is unfortunate that the commissioner seems to be abandoning a pursuit of facts in favor of pursuing the agenda of political allies.
Since this is New York, we can call this what it is: the height of chutzpah.
When the city commissions a report it always reflects the preexisting point of view of the administration. If the city council is going to review this franchise proposal for consideration, it is well advised to get a second opinion from experts who are not simply reflecting what side their bread is being buttered.
For example, Local 813 and other advocates of franchising have come together to push an agenda on the City of New York that bears no relation to the facts actually discovered in the city’s study. The city’s study concluded that there are dramatically fewer accidents and instances of safety concerns in the private carting industry then have been alleged by Local 813 and its allies. Instead of celebrating this fact the study minimizes it and puts it as close to the end of its study as possible.
Let’s look at the commissioner’s untenable argument, supposedly supported by environmental advocates, that garbage truck traffic adversely effects street congestion and the environment. Even if we leave aside for the moment that garbage trucks are a very small part of the city’s truck traffic (we operate at night) and only account for 1/1000th of all pollution in the city, how can we believe this study when the mayor’s other recently released traffic study on the proliferation of 35,000 Uber cars (the equivalent of roughly 4,500 garbage trucks) found no adverse impact on congestion and the environment? Like they say, don’t let the facts get in the way of a favored outcome.
The city has also misrepresented the effects of franchising on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Pursuant to Local Law 145, all industry trucks will be converted to be more fuel-efficient with less greenhouse gas emissions than ever before in the history of the city. This is already scheduled to happen by 2020. The way the study was written makes it sound as if franchising will bring about these goals. In fact, the industry is already on target to exceed the deadline for this conversion and it will happen regardless of franchising.
If franchising is such a panacea, why doesn’t the city take the position of the Citizens Budget Commission and propose franchising the municipal garbage collection which the CBC has found to be less efficient than private carting in almost every way? Instead of opting for greater government control of private carting, the city might be much better outsourcing all of its waste collection to the more efficient private sector. But it won’t because that would require poking a political hornet’s nest. It’s much easier going after small businesses that do not have the political clout of a municipal union.
The city’s carting industry is not perfect, but franchising – with all of its collateral damage and its questionable benefits – is a misguided solution. Turning over commercial garbage collection to government control would destroy hard working companies that have comeback from some very tough times to deliver exemplary service to New York businesses.
The de Blasio administration claims to be all about ending income inequality. Yet it seems that it is poised to advance an assault on good jobs held by hard working New Yorkers simply because politically connected forces are pushing their need for a favor.
We can’t go backwards. The city’s plan is a solution in search of a problem.
Barry is business agent for the United Service Workers Union Local 339