GARY, Ind. – In another sign of the economic crisis hitting working class cities around the country, angry residents and laid off city workers rallied in front of this city’s new General Services building. The crowd brought uncollected garbage and dumped it in front of the building sign. This was only the second day of a stop in the collection of household waste here.
The issue started in October last year when Mayor Rudy Clay announced that the city was going to privatize the garbage collection and start charging its over 28,000 households a $12 monthly fee for trash pickup, under a no-bid contract with Allied Waste, a subsidiary of RSG Inc. which made over $2 billion last year.
The citizen group, Miller Citizen Corporation (MCC), took the city to court, arguing that garbage collection was part of the property taxes residents pay. Ultimately the courts ordered the city to bid the contract, declaring that the fee had to be approved by the City Council and that people’s water could not be cut off for lack of payment of the garbage fee.
Another citizens group, the Central District Organizing Project (CDOP), also joined the fight supporting the 49 laid-off city workers, many of whom were at the rally.
The MCC charged that according to the city’s own figures it cost only $2.9 million annually to pay the workers with benefits, pay for fuel and maintain the equipment, while Allied Waste was charging over $5 million on top of the $2 million tipping fee the city already pays to them. The city argues that it is trying to save money and close a $26 million dollar gap in the budget.
The issue came to a head last week when the City Council voted 6-3 against charging residents the $12 fee, many arguing that there was not even a signed contract yet with Allied. As a result garbage collection ceased this week.
The head of the MCC, attorney Douglas Grimes, charged at the rally that the city “did not need to privatize a basic service that had been done by the city for over 100 years.” He also charged that Allied had a 36 percent profit margin.
“Private enterprise is not here to help you unless they can help themselves, privatization is rarely cheaper,” he added. “The city can rehire these workers and begin to collect garbage again. Just walk down the street and you can see the garbage trucks behind the fence.” The MCC and CDOP, which organized the rally, urged citizens to take their garbage to City Hall.
Lori Peterson, from the CDOP, charged the city with dereliction of duty for saying that they were no longer going to pick up the garbage. “It’s like saying they won’t send out an EMT, fireman or police if someone calls in need,” she stressed.
The workers also spoke about how they had taken 23 percent in cuts to save their jobs and had been lied to when the city laid them off. The Teamsters Union is fighting the layoffs, which did not occur by seniority amongst other issues. Allied had rehired some of the younger, less experienced workers.
“We all live here in Gary, and they hired a company from out of the city and hire outside the city,” the workers charged.
Both the MCC and CDOP are demanding a rehiring of the workers, an end to the fee and the resumption of city-based collection.