In what will likely be the only airing of Toronto’s garbage privatization plan outside City Hall, a female trash collector managed to rattle the normally unflappable councillor leading the push.
Christine Monks, a permanent city employee with 11 years service, told Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong that virtually no private waste haulers hire women as collectors. “They don’t think we can do the work,” she said later, clad in her orange work coveralls, in an interview.
Should Toronto — which has equality hiring provisions for its own workers — care if the private company that takes over the territory between Yonge St. and the Etobicoke border discriminates against women, she asked.
Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, was clearly surprised by the question and fumbled a bit before saying: “I think the contractor should focus on getting the job done.”
The question came near the end of Tuesday night’s debate between Minnan-Wong and Hugh Mackenzie, an economist with the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, at North Toronto Collegiate Institute.
The event, ahead of what is expected to be a raucous city council debate and vote next week, was organized by the ward’s councillor, Josh Matlow, and moderated by Steve Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda.
Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) also revealed that he’s “struggling” with a staff recommendation that council approve the bidding process but then let a staff committee award the final contract potentially worth $150 million.
He voted, along with three other public works members, in favour of that recommendation plus others put forward in a privatization report by senior works staff.
But asked about the clause, amid news that the manager who authored the report is moving to a private-sector firm expected to bid on the contract, Minnan-Wong voiced reservations.
Staff said the delay caused by taking the recommended bid to council will cost the city millions in possible savings, he noted, adding: “I’m struggling with this.”
The issue will be hashed out on the floor of council, he said.
Mackenzie said the announcement by Geoff Rathbone, the city’s general manager of solid waste management, on Friday that he is moving to Progressive Waste Services, formerly BFI Canada, “has fundamentally tainted this process” and it should be halted.
Mackenzie also argued that the city staff report recommending the privatization of the collection of trash and recycling for 165,000 homes is “deficient” on facts. The $6 million per year in savings it forecasts for outsourcing collection is derived through an “apples to oranges” comparison with Etobicoke, where residential collection was privatized long ago, he said.
Privatization would result in the contracts of about 300 city workers classified “temporary”, even though many essentially work full-time, not being renewed.
Asked by Paikin if some city workers should have “jobs for life”, Mackenzie called permanent workers’ ironclad job protection “reasonable” if they have dedicated their careers to the city public service, earning him catcalls from a couple of the roughly 80 people in the school auditorium.
Asked the same question, Minnan-Wong replied: “No.”
Minnan-Wong also rejected suggestions the city try to dictate wage and benefits of workers to a private employer, rejecting the “social engineering” and adding: “That’s not my job.”
Minnan-Wong and Mackenzie agreed on one point — much of the public appetite for garbage privatization is fuelled by the 2009 civic workers’ strike that saw mounds of stinking trash pile up around the city.
Minnan-Wong said the contract would have “continuation of service” provisions to ensure that, even if the contractors’ workers went on strike, the trash would get picked up in the privatized district.
“We’ll be able to bring in other workers,” he said.
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