Guest opinion: Renegotiate labor contracts for garbage service
Garbage rates for Menlo Park have increased dramatically in recent years, rising 18 percent in 2009 and 28 percent in 2010.
Other jurisdictions within the South Bay Waste Management Authority (SBWMA) have experienced similar increases. Skyrocketing labor rates are behind much of the increase. Amazingly, while most of the country experienced significant reductions in income after September 2008, the Teamsters negotiated contracts stipulating 27 percent salary and 47 percent pension increases for their members. These five-year agreements will continue to put upward pressure on garbage rates until 2014.
The primary reason these rates have been allowed to increase so dramatically is that the ratepayer has not been represented at the bargaining table. Instead, whatever labor costs the contractor and the union agree to are passed directly on to the ratepayer. Until now, these pass-throughs have been unchallenged by the waste management authority, its auditor, the cities and other jurisdictions responsible for setting local garbage rates, or the public. That needs to change.
On Jan. 1, 2011, Recology will replace Allied Waste as the garbage contractor. In addition to the wage and pension increases, the contracts contain provisions for increasing unpaid leave and liberalizing the substance abuse policy that only take effect when Recology inherits the contracts. Recology did not participate in the negotiation of the contracts, but nevertheless has agreed to honor them. They did so in the interest of "labor peace," but at the expense of higher costs to the ratepayer.
The inappropriate and disproportionate wage and pension increases, coupled with the new provisions, provide ample reason to request renegotiation of the labor contracts when Recology takes over. Any new negotiations must include elected officials and/or others who can represent the interests of the ratepayers.
Labor leaders have repeatedly stated that they want to partner with cities and counties as we wrestle with the realities of the "new economy." Agreeing to renegotiate these contracts will demonstrate that they are serious about this pledge.
Menlo Park City Council member