Trash pickup privatization plan begins

The City of Toronto has officially started work on a plan to privatize garbage and recycling collection in an area west of Yonge Street.

The city said in a news release it has notified the garbage workers' union that it intends to pursue a plan to open up garbage collection in that area up to competitive bidding. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has said repeatedly that he wants to privatize garbage pickup once the contract with unionized workers expires at the end of 2011.

The affected area has about 165,000 homes and would be bordered by Yonge Street to the east, the Humber River to the west, Steeles Avenue to the north and Lake Ontario to the south, the release said.

Etobicoke, which already has private garbage collection due to a deal that was struck before Toronto municipalities amalgamated in 1999, is not affected. Nor is the portion of the city east of Yonge Street.

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, the chair of the city's public works and infrastructure committee, said the city was only pursuing privatization in the west of the city because the current collective agreement protects permanent employees should the city decide to contract out.

If garbage collection was contracted out to an external vendor, full-time garbage workers with 10 or more years of experience would still have to be employed in some other capacity by the city at the same rate of pay.

"The temporary positions are the positions on the west side of Yonge Street that we will be dealing with in this initiative," Minnan-Wong told reporters at a Monday afternoon news conference.

The move will save the city about $8 million, he said. He said more details of the plan would come out in about five days, after the city had discussed the specifics with CUPE Local 416, the garbage workers' union.

"All I would say is what's happening today, in my opinion, should have happened in 1998," said Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who was mayor of the old City of Etobicoke before amalgamation.

"When we came down here after amalgamation we already contracted the garbage out in Etobicoke and knew it worked well, that it saved money and that we virtually could guarantee the service. I couldn't get the powers [that] be to see my way of thinking and it's taken right up till today to finally get something in the works here."

The city says about 300 employees would be affected under the proposal.

Ford says private garbage collection is cheaper and more efficient than a publicly-run service, and that CUPE Local 416 can bid on a new contract and could end up winning it.

Mark Ferguson, the president of CUPE Local 416 which represents Toronto's garbage collectors, called the mayor's announced "an irresponsible and wrong-headed approach to the delivery of city services."

"We are willing and we have always been willing to discuss ways in which this city can deliver high quality and efficient services cost-effectively," he said.

Mayor Ford, Ferguson said is trying to "demonize [city] employees to justify a contracting out scenario."

Quoted a recent study he said that the cost of collecting garbage in Toronto is "30 per cent below the provincial average."

"Every measure that has been done shows that Toronto's in-house garbage collection is more cost-effective than for-profit companies can deliver," said Ferguson.

"These proposals from the Ford administration are not about saving money this is purely an ideological attack on the public sector and to do a favour to his friends on Bay Street," the union leader said at an afternoon news conference.