Monday, July 10, 2006

Waste Not, Want Not-Part 11

In Saturday's NY Times the paper focuses on the four month strike against Waste Management by Local 813 of the Teamsters. Health care and overtime are the two prime issues in the dispute but other policy concerns underlie the entire mess.

There are a number of overriding questions that this labor conflict raises. The first being the fact that, although WM is a private entity, it is garnering over $1 billion in fees handling the city's residential waste out of two transfer station facilities in Brooklyn, and one in Queens and the Bronx. In addition, the company came into this town riding a Giuliani-induced hysteria over the "mob tax" that was supposedly being charged local businesses by private carters linked to organized crime. Shortly after their entry, however, the company joined with two other national firms demanding that the garbage disposal cap, the one designed to return that mob tax to the city's stores and offices, be lifted because it prevented them from making a profit.

Not only that, once WM had garnered the most lucrative transfer stations from the old cartel, they began to systematically divest customers all over the city's neighborhoods. All of which made NY Post columnist Ray Kerrison look like a prophet when, ten years ago, he wrote, "The Hoodlums are Out, But Who's In?"

Don't forget that in order for Waste to be able to set up shop in NYC it had to get a waiver from the regulation that prohibited anyone convicted of a felony from obtaining a garbage license here. The waiver was needed because of the company's long rap sheet in other jurisdictions all over the country.

NYC is in the midst of trying to develop a sensible solid waste plan. What everyone agrees is that this task can't be accomplished without considering the 12,000 daily tons of commercial waste along with the 13,ooo tons of residential garbage. Who handles the commercial waste and how it is handled is a matter of public concern. The fact that the administration is planning to continue its "pump and dump" export strategy also factors in here since WM remains central to all of it.

Is WM the kind of company that the city wants to get into bed with long term? This issue transcends the current labor dispute even while the strike raises questions about the firm's integrity. This question is exacerbated by the fact that WM has divested its holdings on Long Island and in Upstate Orange County to companies that we are told would not pass the licensing threshold in NYC.

Which brings us to a final crucial point. The Alliance has been promoting a waste reduction strategy utilizing food waste disposers for the past three years. Some of the opposition has come from environmental groups but the real foot dragging has been institutional. Why, for instance, would DSNY do a commercial waste study without even including disposers in its scope of work?

The question that needs to be asked is, Who benefits from not using food waste disposers? The clear answer is companies like WM that profit from the higher put-through fees generated by the heavier food waste. Scores of public policy studies have exposed the often cozy relations between private sector firms and the municpal bureaucracies that are supposed to regulate them. Should we look any further for the real source of DEP's and DSNY's reluctance to embrace a methodology that will dramatically reduce waste ?

This entire waste disposal policy needs to be thoroughly examined with a critical eye. If it isn't than we might find that the city has allowed itself to be held hostage to an unethical private sector firm that will bleed it for billions in the decades ahead.