Private garbage collectors could be replacing municipal workers on downtown Toronto streets as soon as next summer, a new timeline that puts the city six months ahead of schedule in its bid to contract out garbage services, and adds a degree of tension to looming labour negotiations.
The city issued its call for bids on the project late Wednesday afternoon. It's looking for a company to collect residential and commercial waste between Yonge Street and the Etobicoke border for a seven-year period at a cost of no more than $25,975,030.
The 2011 budget commits $30.7-million to residential waste collection.
City council approved Mayor Rob Ford's plan to privatize trash service for 165,000 homes in the area in May, but last-minute caveats pushed the anticipated rollout of private trucks to early 2013.
But in a surprise announcement Wednesday afternoon, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who stick-handled the plan through council as chair of the Public Works Committee, revised that estimate to the summer of 2012. That tweaked timeline means the deal's anticipated $6-million in annual savings would kick in six months ahead of schedule, yielding $3-million this year.
"We expressed enthusiastically that this get done as soon as possible because there's $3-million on the table," he said. "The public service has responded and acted aggressively to get the tender document completed so that it can be issued now."
The window for bids closes on Sept. 27, clearing the way for council to vote on the issue during its Oct. 24 meeting.
That would fall around the same time that union officials expect the city to issue bargaining notices on its two biggest collective agreements. CUPE Local 416 and Local 79 are bracing for a bruising round of negotiations and a potential lockout in January.
Contracting out District 2 is expected to displace more than 300 city workers, members of Local 416. The city's bid request states that all interested companies must put forth a plan for how they would make use of ousted city workers. At the same time, it sets the minimum hourly wage for private garbage workers at $18.97. City garbage workers make an average of $26.06 an hour.
Under the current collective agreement, all full-time workers bumped by private workers must be offered another municipal position. That controversial clause is expected to be a major bargaining issue come January.
Earlier this year, Mr. Ford stated that District 2 represents the first phase in a three-stage plan to contract out garbage collection throughout the rest of the city. "We're going to do Yonge Street first, and the next phase will be up to Victoria Park and the next stage will be up to Markham Road," he said in May.
Mr. Minnan-Wong said that the District 2 plan will place roughly 50 per cent of the city under private trash collection and give the city a solid side-by-side comparison of how much money, if any, it can save by contracting out other services. Union officials and opposing councillors have said repeatedly that the $6-million in savings is an illusory number based on figures in Etobicoke, which contracted out its garbage service prior to amalgamation, but has less dense suburban streets than the packed downtown grid of District 2.
"These savings estimates that have emerged are extremely sketchy," said Councillor Shelley Carroll. "We have to make sure we get this right. If residents have one expectation of us, it's a high quality of service in terms of solid waste."