By Isaac Olson – Free Press
Before the September 21 Côte St. Luc council meeting got under way, blue collar workers were at city hall’s front doors handing out bilingual pamphlets urging people to “challenge the awarding of contracts to private companies by Mayor Anthony Housefather.”

While workers claim it’s a waste of money and it is costing workers their jobs, Housefather argues it actually is cheaper to go through the private company, but that does not mean the city isn’t open to solutions.

About 60 workers from the blue collar union, all sporting hats with the union logo, filled the meeting hall to the point that many were left standing around the back of the room rather than taking front row seats. Many of the union members covered or hid their faces when journalists took out their cameras. Union representative Pierre-Guy Sylvestre and local workers took to the microphone to ask the mayor why the city awarded a contract worth about $750,000 (tax included) to a private company rather than continuing to use city workers.

The union pamphlet states, “The repatriation of work in-house is a priority for the Union of Blue Collar Workers of Montreal and we relentlessly denounce the waste of money by elected representatives in any city or borough.”

However, countered Housefather, the decision to move the garbage collection service to RCI was for no other reason
than to save money.

“We value our relationship with the blue collars,” said Housefather. In 2006, he said, when the city took garbage collection in house, the price of out-sourced garbage collection had shot up “astronomically.”

The council, he said, decided to take it in-house to save money. At the time, he said that meant spending over $1 million to have city workers collect garbage. That price did not include composting. “We wrote the tender to be at exactly the same level as that we were getting from the blues.”

The price difference between RCI and in-house, he explained, is nearly $800,000. The mayor told the blue collar workers that the city would be willing to discuss options and, if the union can come up with a way to match the RCI price, the city will go back to relying on in-house services to collect compost and trash.

“I can’t see how we can get to that number, but I am happy to talk,” said Housefather. “The goal here is to always have a good relationship.”

On September 17, the city issued a full response on its website to a recent full page ad that was published in The Suburban. That ad, paid for by the union, included “several inaccurate and misleading statements,” according to the city’s statement, and “It should be noted that the union’s complaint came more than nine months following the ratification by city council of the contract.”

The statement on the website goes on to explain the numbers in detail. It states, “The cost of the city handling in-house waste collection and organic collection (brown bin) would have been almost $1.336 million in 2015. By contrast, the cost to outsource was about 50 percent less costly at $680,606.84. Given the market change, the decision was an easy one.

“But beyond just saving taxpayer money, Côte St. Luc also tries to be fair with staff. For instance, all the workers who had been working on our waste collection teams were offered new jobs. Some got promotions. Others were transferred to comparable jobs, in addition to being offered training to improve their skills.”