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Waste walkout weighs on trash talks

Rocky River trash scooters make their rounds. (West Life photo by Sue Botos)

Rocky River

By Sue Botos

A recent one-day work stoppage by members of Teamsters Local 20 at Republic Services/Allied Waste in support of fellow union members in Youngstown did not affect trash services in Rocky River. The short walkout did provide food for thought as the city continues to explore ways to make refuse collection more efficient and cost-effective.

“Yes, this is something we would want to agree upon in any contract with a private hauler,” said Mayor Pam Bobst, when asked if the strike had any influence upon the ongoing discussion. She said that part of such an agreement would stipulate that there will be no extended work stoppages.

However, unions do have the right to strike, and Bobst was quick to point out that even with a city-operated service, this is a threat. “Any day of the week, our own union could strike. This could happen to us,” said Bobst, adding that the last walkout by service department employees occurred before she became mayor in 2006.

The brief strike last week pushed back trash collection by one day in several cities, including Avon Lake, North Ridgeville, Bay Village and Fairview Park. Reportedly, the walkout by the local Teamsters was to show solidarity with the Youngstown union, which struck at the end of the previous week to protest alleged violations of federal labor laws. A picket line was reported to have formed at the Republic facility on Butternut Ridge Road in Elyria.

During her recent state of the city address, Bobst noted it has been about a year and a half since discussion was initiated about alternatives to the current city trash collection system made up of the iconic “trash scooters,” which pick up refuse from yards and deposit it into packer trucks.

At a public hearing last year, a packed house in the city’s civic center literally shouted down a presentation by Republic’s David Kidder. The outburst followed a speech by Diane Bickett, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, touting the benefits of an outside contractor, which, she said, included lower cost and easier recycling.

Bickett reported, during her talk, that 38 communities in Cuyahoga County use outside trash contractors, and 21 have municipal waste service. She said that only three East Side communities have scooter pickups.

According to information presented at that meeting, city trash pickup is supplemented by a 1-mill property tax, put in place in 1993. In 2011, this fund amounted to $680,101, which did not come close to covering the cost of refuse collection. An additional $900,000 was moved from the general fund to cover the difference.

Although City Council has initiated discussion about placing an income tax increase on the November ballot, Bobst stated that “refuse is a separate issue.”

Bobst has said that waste removal could end up as a combination of present and new practices, possibly offering scooter pickup as an option at additional cost. “We all love the scooters,” Bobst said, adding that she will continue to work with the county and to speak with residents. At her state of the city address she told the audience, “It’s important to share accurate information so residents can make informed decisions on the value of the process.”

 

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