Wondering Who Benefits From New Garbage Collection System
To the Editor:
When I married and moved to Princeton Township in the mid-1970s, garbage collection was a pretty simple affair. An independent contractor backed his pickup up our driveway, opened the garage door, and emptied our garbage into the back of his truck. The profits went to support his family. When recycling started in Princeton he had less to pick up. I was glad. Perhaps it gave him a little extra for his family.
The Township and Borough merged. The independent contractor lost his business as the newly created municipality contracted with a company to collect the garbage all over Princeton, my home included. The garbage had to be taken out to the curb, but whether there was a little or a lot to be taken away did not matter. The profit from the garbage collection now went to a company, not to an individual contractor and his family.
Lately things have changed again. The contract with the new company requires that we use their specialized household garbage carts. If the specialized cart does not hold all a household’s garbage, the household can pay $300 annually for an additional 64-gallon cart or $150 for a 32-gallon cart.
In addition if there is some biggish item that does not fit in the new company’s cart, a phone call must be made to request a special pick-up which will be done on a Wednesday. It is not clear whether the Wednesday pick-up will occur promptly after the call or after an interval that fits the company’s convenience. For example, could a homeowner end up having items put out for a Wednesday pick-up linger on as the time for a party at the home approached?
I have wondered how a company proposing a whole new system — specialized household disposal carts and specialized trucks to pick them up — could come up a winning bid. Perhaps the new contractor used a loss leader strategy. The new company has essentially created a near monopoly position for itself. For a future contact, the only company that could compete would be one which had collection vehicles designed to work with our now newly delivered household carts.
Meanwhile the profits from our current successful bidder, as with the previous one, are going mostly to stockholders, not to the workers. Which brings me to a very important point. Nowhere in the public discussion of this new garbage collection contract has there been any reference to the welfare of the workers. Does the plan include a reasonable wage that could support a family? Are there any safeguards for worker health? Is the contractor encouraged in any way to permit the organization of a union? Has any severance package been set up for the workers who are losing their jobs as collection goes from three workers per truck to two?
Clearly the company side on the negotiations preceding the new garbage collection contract included a very good negotiator. I question whether the Princeton government side of the negotiations did.