Coming to a City Near You!

April 10, 2017 at 10:57 am 1 comment

By Andrew Richter

Now folks over the years here we have warned you that local government is using the environment as an excuse to take away your freedom of choice when it comes to trash collection. The latest circus is in the People’s Republic of St. Paul;

When Bobby Stewart, a third-generation trash hauler, saw the list of items the city of St. Paul expects collected alongside residential garbage, his eyes almost crossed. If the city gets its way, Christmas trees would be picked up from residential homes every January. A barrel full of lawn waste and up to eight additional bags of leaves and grass clippings would be carted off throughout the year for an extra fee. And collection of three big and bulky items annually, such as sofas, refrigerators and tires, would come standard.

Meanwhile, a contract for residential citywide trash collection would also include a labor peace agreement, allowing employees of the trash haulers to unionize. “On the one hand, they want unions,” said Stewart, 31, whose maternal grandparents launched Highland Sanitation in 1950. “On the other hand, they want a cheaper price than the current market. And the current market doesn’t have unions. … They want us to do a lot more (for less).”

Of course they do…..low price with a high wage!

The St. Paul City Council voted last July to move toward organized trash collection, but discussions — which have produced three proposals to date from a consortium of 15 haulers — have bogged down over four key issues.

Here’s an idea: why don’t you let these companies compete for the business of citizens????

As a result, the council on Wednesday will vote on whether to assemble a committee of city officials to consider putting collection out to bid or issuing a separate request for proposals, even as negotiations with the haulers continue. The goal remains to launch organized trash collection in 2018 or 2019.

“The resolution would direct us to set a dual track,” said Ellen Biales, administrative programs manager for St. Paul Public Works. “The council members are feeling this keeps the city’s options open. We’re still hoping we can come to an agreement with the haulers, but if we can’t, this keeps us on track.”

Negotiations between the city and the coalition of haulers have hit an impasse over four key areas: pricing; labor peace agreements; centralized billing; and the possible creation of a single legal entity made up of all the residential haulers in the city.

As a result of a decentralized system adopted in the 1970s, 11 local, independent haulers and four regional or national chains roll down St. Paul alleys, with costs and services that can vary dramatically from house to house.

Yes, it’s called independent contracting. Different companies offering different services to people who want different things.

In St. Paul, picking a garbage plan can be almost as confusing as choosing a cellphone or cable package.

So what? It’s called a free market!

“We’re trying to standardize the prices,” Biales said. “It’s a tough conversation because it’s a big systems change. New residents to the city are just mystified that they have to figure this out on their own.”

Let me translate that: you’re trying to do a one-size fits all by taking away people’s freedom of choice.

Under state law, before trash collection can be put out to bid like any other major contract, the city must first attempt to negotiate a citywide collection system with a consortium of haulers. Since August, negotiations have spanned 11 meetings and resulted in three proposals to the city.

“We’ve made significant movement from the first proposal to the third proposal,” said Anne Hunt, the city’s environmental policy director. Hunt has led negotiations for the city alongside recycling and solid waste program manager Kristin Hageman, with research help from Deputy City Attorney Rachel Tierney and Foth consultants.

The haulers say they’re frustrated.

Jim Berquist, 66, of Ken Berquist and Son Disposal, said 90 percent of his business is based in St. Paul, and has been since the 1930s. Putting citywide residential garbage collection out to bid could force him and 11 employees — several of them family members — out of business. “If we lose the contract, my company is over,” Berquist said.

Meanwhile, the rough rollout of a citywide alleyway recycling program that began in January has provided fresh ammunition to critics.

The haulers recently launched a Facebook page — “1st Choice St. Paul” — where they ask residents to “tell City Hall that they should be focusing on solving the current budget … and fixing their failed recycling program before digging into our garbage.”

No they are too busy putting garbage companies out of business.

Trash haulers say they are being asked to provide more services than they currently do, at lower cost. That includes annual Christmas tree collection, an optional 64-gallon barrel of lawn waste and eight additional bags, and up to one cart switch per year.

The haulers say each of their three proposals to the city has slashed prices compared with the one before. “The haulers have made some movement on prices,” Biales acknowledged, “but I think what we’re asking for is very competitive with the marketplace right now.”

Meanwhile, other costs are rising for trash haulers. Berquist noted that Ramsey and Washington counties have bought a garbage processing plant in Newport, which will likely raise fees once the plant’s contract with haulers expires at the end of the year.

In addition, the city is requiring the haulers to sign labor peace agreements guaranteeing they will not interfere with workers’ attempts to unionize, which could add to costs.

My friends, I’m telling you that this discussion is coming to a city near you. Someone somewhere on a city council (Johnny B) or on city staff is looking at this a plotting to pursue it! Watch for it!





Entry filed under: City Government, County, Environment. Tags: .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Roger  |  April 11, 2017 at 9:23 am

    This happened in bloomington last year. The hauler we had picked up recycling every week rather that every other as they do now. They were only slightly higher cost but we were ok with that. We have a lot of recycle as we get a lot of boxes of medical supplies. Tough to put them in one can for two weeks. I often take stuff to work to get rid of rid. Free market works well when gr government stays out!


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