PAWTUCKET — Despite a last minute plea by the union to stop it, the Purchasing Board voted 3 to 2 Tuesday night to award the bid for the city’s trash and recycling services to a private contractor, MTG Disposal of Seekonk, Mass.
The vote to approve drew an immediate reaction from dozens of city sanitation workers and other members of Local 1012, who hurled angry comments and harsh words at the members of the Purchasing Board.
Many also voiced their displeasure at Mayor Donald Grebien, who did not attend the meeting despite being an ad hoc member of the Purchasing Board.
To chants of “Shame! Shame on you!” and “It’s not your job being lost!” several pointed fingers at the three who voted for the bid award and accused them of doing so because they were “Grebien appointees.”
Those voting to approve the awarding of the bid were John Sawyer and Pablo J. Rodrigues-Masjoan, while City Councilor Lorenzo Tetreault and Ann McCarthy voted in opposition. Finance Director Joanna L’Heureux, the other ad hoc member of the Purchasing Board, also cast a vote in the affirmative, breaking the tie.
The vote capped several months of contentious meetings between the union, the city administration, which was pushing for the privatization efforts, and the City Council, which maintained that it should have had the final say over the approval of the trash contract, rather than the Purchasing Board.
Grebien, Director of Administration Antonio Pires and Public Works Director Lance Hill consistently maintained that the proposal by the low bidder, MTG Disposal, would save the city at least $800,000 to $1 million a year over keeping the trash and recycling services in-house.
The union, through Local 1012 president Augie Venice, made several different proposals to the administration to show that they could do the job for less than MTG, including a new plan that was submitted just Monday.
Venice outlined the latest numbers to the Purchasing Board on Tuesday prior to the vote, but Hill disputed most of them, saying that a subsequent analysis by DPW supervisors turned up several discrepancies in the union’s savings estimates.
Following the vote, Venice and J. Michael Downey, executive director of Rhode Island AFSCME Council 94 that Local 1012 is part of, said they would be exploring legal options to try and stop the city from going through with the privatization.
Pires, who arrived at the meeting just after the vote took place, maintained that the administration would make good on its stated goal of not laying off any sanitation workers because of the privatization. He reiterated that between filling vacancies and attrition, only about six or seven sanitation workers would actually be displaced, and said the city would make every effort to find these people other jobs.
Pires said that while he understood that the employees were angry, he maintained that the privatization is the best way for the city to go to save money. He said he believed that once the new trash service was in place, the city’s taxpayers would also come to agree that the privatization was the right decision.
Pires said now that the Purchasing Board had approved the bid, the administration would go ahead and enter into negotiations with MTG Disposal to come up with a contract.
City Council President David Moran, one of several councilors to attend the meeting, said later that while he wasn’t surprised by the Purchasing Board’s vote, he thought more time was needed for a thorough review of the proposal. “I feel bad for the union. They have given up a lot for the last six years,” he stated. He added that he expects the council to continue a discussion about the trash and recycling contract, particularly since the council is the body that appropriates funding for the trash and recycling services.
Ironically, during the meeting, at around 6 p.m., the Fire Department received a report of a fire in one of the city’s trash trucks parked behind the DPW garage on Armistice Boulevard. A Fire Department spokesman confirmed the call about a fire but said the cause was still being investigated (the cause could not be learned as of press time).