TUCSON, Ariz. – Sanitation workers here are fighting back against the threat of privatization. A crowd of 100 rallied May 24 at City Hall to protest the proposal by Republican City Council member Fred Ronstadt to contract out the city’s garbage pickup, currently performed by public employees of the Environmental Services Department, members of AFSCME Local 449. If garbage pickup is privatized, union jobs would also be lost in the city’s auto shop and fleet services departments.

Sanitation workers and their supporters, who included members of the IUE-CWA, the Steelworkers Union, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the AFL-CIO, Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Local 3204, and every division of AFSCME Local 449, listened attentively to a round of speakers who relayed messages of support from community groups and other unions and exhorted them to keep up “the union fight.” This solidarity of the workers and the unions and the community “is where the strength is,” said one speaker.

The crowd entered City Hall en masse to wait their turn at the podium during Call to the Audience. First to speak was Linda Bohlke, field representative for AFSCME Council 97. Bohlke pointed out the City Council would never consider contracting out police and firefighting services because the council recognizes them for the essential service that they are. Garbage collection is just as essential and should also never be contracted out, Bohlke asserted.

Bohlke’s speech was met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation not only from the contingent from the rally, but also from audience members who were there on an unrelated issue.

Bohlke also pointed out that the city’s experience with privatization has not been a happy one. After contracting out recycling services to Waste Management, Inc., a company well known for its ignominious history of environmental misdeeds, she said, the city of Tucson brought recycling back in-house in 2002 at a savings of $8.5 million.

The city has told the union that they do not have the money to keep garbage collection in-house or to give workers raises, so the union is sponsoring a bake sale to raise money for the city’s garbage collection at the next rally on June 7 at the Tucson Convention Center.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.