Recently, the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council, a non-profit group that measures efficiencies in municipal operations, presented a study of Bristol’s department of public works and suggested the town could save more than $2 million in a five year period if private haulers were used to collect household trash.
The president of the Steelworkers Union local 14845, which represents the workers who would be impacted, isn’t convinced that those savings are real.
“From what I understand, the lowest bidder came in $174,000 more than what we could do it for,” said Mark Grey, union president. “I don’t understand where these savings are coming from.”
RIPEC presented their study to the Bristol Town Council on Nov. 28, using bids from a 2011 request for proposals from private trash haulers. Further discussion would involve obtaining new bids to enter into the analysis.
While Mr. Grey acknowledged that members of the union and DPW management have maintained an open dialogue regarding operations, he is concerned that numbers alone will not illustrate the totality of what town workers do. With a new town council and new DPW director in place, Mr. Grey is hopeful that no decision will be made until all parties have their questions answered satisfactorily.
“I think they’re going to be careful with what they’re going to do,” he said.
While the past town council seemed to favor using town workers for more “pristine” duties, such as cutting grass, the town doesn’t own the equipment to takeover those jobs, Mr. Grey said. Outfitting the department would create expense.
“We don’t understand how we’re going to do these pristine jobs if we don’t have the equipment or the training,” he said.
If money savings is the ultimate motivator, Mr. Grey suggested the town looks at other options, some as simple as getting residents to increase recycling which, in turn, decreases tipping fees and increases any profit-sharing revenues given by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation.
“I think we’re better off keeping the trash and managing our recycling program better,” Mr. Grey said.
If the cost savings were real, Mr. Grey said that the union wouldn’t stand in the way of making the town better off. However, giving up the DPW’s largest function to an outside company could backfire. Mr. Grey said some people in Barrington have second-guessed their decision after going private.
If privatizing is still a consideration, Mr. Grey said that he hopes the town will engage the union members in those discussions, since all parties share an interest in making the town better.
Under union rules, if the town was to implement a change that adversely affected its members, those workers would have to wait until the change occurred in order to file a grievance.