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City to privatize recycling; deliver curb-side service to households

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Under fire to deliver suburban-style curbside recycling to 359,000 Chicago households without it, the Daley administration has decided to privatize the service by signing a 10-year contract with Waste Management, a union leader has been told.

Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Local 1001, said the city would be divided into six zones, with four of them awarded to the waste-hauling giant.

Brackenbox, supplier of giant Dumpsters known as “roll-off boxes” used to replace Hired Trucks, is expected to get at least one zone, he said.

Although a city official said the contracts were still being evaluated, Phillips said he has been told that Mayor Daley intends to sign the recycling contracts early next month to get ahead of a union-backed ordinance designed to keep the work in-house. It would require a two-thirds vote by the City Council before assets are sold and city services are privatized.

“They don’t have money to pay my members overtime or holidays, but they can bring companies in to do recycling. It’s a kick in the ass to the people of Chicago and to my members. These are the guys who stood up and took comp time and furlough days. Now they’re giving our work away,” Phillips said.

“Maybe it’s one last sweetheart deal. But the citizens will be left holding the bag. You won’t have a city work force anymore. Eventually, you’ll have a 1-800 number to call for your problems. It could lead to fees. This contract will start out costing $600,000 a month. I don’t see the city being able to absorb the cost.”

Phillips has been lobbying aldermen to impose a $10 monthly fee for recycling pickups to raise $72 million — enough to bankroll the citywide switch to curbside recycling now stuck at 241,000 households.

“A $10 user fee is gonna be cheap two years from now. Once these companies have got it for 10 years” the sky’s the limit.

Streets and Sanitation spokesman Matt Smith said Wednesday he had “no information” on the recycling contracts.

But Procurement Services spokeswoman Shannon Andrews said a Jan. 12 bid opening attracted eight proposals that were still being reviewed.

“This contract has not been awarded and the bids are still under evaluation,’’ Andrews said Wednesday.

The Laborers contract requires the city to inform the union when it intends to privatize the jobs of its members. The union is then given one last chance to submit a competing bid, now scheduled for April 6.

But Phillips charged Wednesday that the city is just going through the motions. Last summer, aldermen from across the city demanded to know why curbside recycling has come to only one-third of Chicago households.

A few weeks later, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that at least 22,000 blue recycling carts — with a pricetag of $1 million — were stashed away in a Far South Side warehouse because City Hall bought them to make the citywide switch but ran out of money one-third of the way through.

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