South Miami

South Miami workers concerned by plan to privatize garbage collection

Concerned city employees sat shoulder-to-shoulder, filling South Miami’s City Commission meeting July 22 at City Hall. Several attendees voiced their concerns regarding an ordinance authorizing City Manager Steven Alexander to enter a franchise agreement that would change South Miami’s waste collection department from city operated to privately operated.

Eleven jobs within the city’s public works department will be affected if the city decides to hire Waste Pro of Florida Inc. and passes the ordinance at its second reading Aug. 5.

“I think maybe 14 employees, that have been working an average length of eight years for the city will be impacted,” said Norman Herdocia, regional director of AFSCME council 79, the union that represents the city employees.

“They will be taken out of their current city positions. They will be stripped of their pensions, insurance … other benefits that they have, and job security that they have with the city, and will be placed in at-will employment.”

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the nation’s largest public services employees union at more than 1.6 million members. The union has represented city employees since 1979 and currently represents between 55 and 60 city employees, according to Herdocia.

But according to Alexander, Waste Pro of Florida, who provides solid waste collection and recycling services, is contractually obligated to employ the 11 people affected by the change.

“Other than the price, it was the highest thing on my list,” Alexander said. “Waste Pro has guaranteed, in the contract, that they will hire these folks, immediately.”

The move will save South Miami $600,000 annually.

“Instead of spending that $600,000 for waste removal, I can now spend that same $600,000 of tax revenue on something else,” Alexander said. “It’s all rolled into my draft budget which will be out by the end of the month.”

South Miami did not run a request for proposal (RFP) for the company but plans to enter the franchise agreement based on the same agreement Waste Pro of Florida holds with the Village of Biscayne Park, established on a competitive solicitation.

“No notice was given to the union,” Herdocia said. “They just posted it (the ordinance) in the newspaper three or five days before (the meeting). Why are they moving so quickly? Why can’t they have an RFP?”

Alexander said the city did not do its own RFP because the process, which takes a minimum of three months, would not have been available for this budget cycle. South Miami will have a budget workshop on Aug. 13 and Alexander is required to have a draft budget to the commission at the end of July.

“There just wasn’t enough time to do an RFP by ourselves,” Alexander said. “And frankly we looked at the Biscayne Park RFP and it was very well done and very well managed and we were pretty happy with the way they conducted the RFP.”

Biscayne Park has a population of more than 3,000 residents compared to more than 12,000 residents in South Miami.

The agreement has the same level of trash pickups, but doubles the frequency of recycling pickups to encourage more and better recycling throughout the city, according to the ordinance.

Alexander says the affected employees are concerned about the pay and working conditions of their new occupations.

“Nobody likes change,” Alexander said. “So their first concern is not liking to see the change. Instead of working out of a yard in South Miami, they may be working in a yard in Pembroke Pines. That is also something we are working with the company on…trying to get the location of where they are going to work closer to where people work now.”

The five-year agreement has an optional extension of up to two addition five-year terms.

Current pensions will be negotiated between the city and employees and the employees will have the option to take money out of their pension funds and add it to the Waste Pro of Florida pension fund, according to Alexander.

“The union is willing to sit down with the city and work out a savings plan with the current employees to see how they can save money,” Herdocia said. “They should have a labor management meeting and sit down with the people that work at the sanitation department and see if they can come up with a plan that saves the city money.”

The North Miami Beach council voted 4-3 against privatizing its sanitation department with Waste Pro of Florida on June 18. Waste Pro has more than 165 municipal contracts with cities including: Hollywood, North Miami, Pembroke Pines, and Biscayne Park.

Waste Pro has an F rating on the Better Business Bureau website. Herdocia said the city of South Miami has not reached out to the union.

“These (employees) know the community,” Herdocia said. “They know their kids. Now they are going to work for a private company with at-will employment, where anything can happen to them. We don’t know what the hiring practice is going to be. We don’t know if they do a screening for their employees. We don’t know who can be picking up the garbage here in a year. It puts the residents in danger also. We have strict background screening.”

Alexander said the city plans to hold a workshop Aug. 4 where financial experts from the city and Waste Pro can discuss future plans with employees.