The Teamsters union has represented the workers who pick up Oakland's trash and recyclables for almost 50 years. Our members work for Waste Management and California Waste Solutions (CWS), the two companies that Oakland currently contracts with for this vital service. Recently, the City Council voted to award the entire $1 billion contract to CWS come July 2015. If your garbage doesn't get picked up, don't blame us.
The council went against the recommendations of city staff when they took this vote. Among other things, staff was concerned that CWS wouldn't have enough trucks, garbage cans, or even the billing systems in place. We shared these concerns.
Partly in response to a long campaign by the West Oakland community to move recyclers out of their neighborhood, CWS has to permit and build an entirely new facility on the former Oakland Army Base in five years. That's a lot of work to get done in a short time. An independent consultant hired by the city said it would be hard to do. In the meantime, West Oakland will feel the impact as CWS doubles its operations.
Council members claimed CWS would bring the lowest rate increases -- about $2 less per month than Waste Management would charge a single-family home. Staff said the risks involved outweighed those savings. Council members were proud that CWS is a small, local company, but CWS partnered with Phoenix-based Republic Services -- the second largest waste company in the U.S. Republic didn't bid to do this service. In fact, there was some question about whether they were even eligible to bid, as city policy prohibits doing business with Arizona-based companies due to that state's anti-immigrant stances.
The whole procurement process was problematic from the beginning. The city spent more than $1 million on a consultant to get competitive bids, and in the end they only got bids from the incumbents. The bidding process was timed to culminate in an election year, asking council members and the mayor to approve dramatic rate increases when many are running for office. Not a formula for success.
City staff recommended that Waste Management get the whole contract because they have the equipment in place and the experience to get the job done. We agree. But the company has been unpopular since they locked out our members in 2007 and they appeared willing to negotiate only at the eleventh hour. On the other hand, CWS is well-regarded as a homegrown success story, and for good reason. But the council's actions in the face of staff opposition, combined with the company's deep political connections, taint the process with the appearance of an act of political patronage.
Our members will be fine working for either company. We've had our share of problems with both of them, just as we've helped make both a success. No matter what decision the council makes, we will suit up and show up to pick up your cans. We are going to work with CWS and the city to try and make this transition work. But if there are problems, take it up with your elected leaders -- not us.
In the end, it just proves that garbage really is dirty business.
Marty Frates is secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 70 in Oakland.