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Picking Up the Garbage within The City Budget

Dennis Byrne 26 November 2008 3 Comments

If I don’t look fast, my suburban garbage truck will have come and gone without my noticing. And unlike in Chicago, which has three people working each truck, my scavenger service has only one—the driver.

The holy writ in Chicago is that you can’t have just one, and therein lies one of the reasons that Mayor Richard M. Daley’s city is in such awful financial shape: Chicago’s government doesn’t exist for the benefit of those who pay for it; it’s purpose is to feather the nest of the people who run it.

How better to explain the recently approved $6-billion city budget that had to levy new taxes to eliminate a $469 million deficit? Of course, Chicago attempted to blame the sagging economy for the shortfall—and that’s surely part of it—but the bigger part is the waste and corruption built into the Machine.

Consider the deal that requires three-man crews on each garbage truck—one to drive and two labors to load. In many suburbs, a one-man crew drives and loads the truck, with no harm to the level of service. His truck has a cab that allows him to drive the truck from the right side in a standing position, allowing fast exit and entry. The truck loads from the right side, using a rig that mechanically attaches to and empties each garbage canister.

In rare recognition that the three-men crew may not be the most productive arrangement, the Daley administration is “experimenting” with several dozen trucks manned by only two workers. Still, by far most trucks are burdened with the three-man crews.

And so, Daley is firmly opposed to one-man trucks because, as he said at a recent press conference: “You need someone to drive the truck and two on back. … For three-man crews you need a driver. Someone has to drive the truck. If you can get a truck that can drive by itself, then fine. But you need someone to drive a truck.” He also suggested that sometimes the garbage canisters wouldn’t be correctly aligned with the truck where it stops, making the system less productive.

Vintage Daley. C’mon, mayor, the canisters are never aligned so that they can be picked up without the driver moving them a few feet or inches into the proper position. Of course, that would mean that the driver would have to do a little work.

Which is something that seems to cause many city workers to break out in a rash? Including the garbage men. Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman last month revealed that a 10-week investigation by his office turned up major lollygagging by garbage truck crews. “[D]uring the entire 10 weeks of observations,” Hoffman said, “the investigators did not see a single laborer doing a full day’s work. … When the figures regarding benefits and truck operating costs are added to the figures regarding wages, the total potential loss to the City from the waste and falsification of garbage truck crews is $20.9 million.”

Of course, Daley doesn’t like anyone nosing around his administration, especially Hoffman, who has approached his job as if he’s actually supposed to nose around and not just serve as window dressing. So, don’t expect anything to come of Hoffman’s report.

The garbage truck scandal is symptomatic of bigger problems in a city that gave its workers a 10-year labor contract. Ten years. What business (or government ) in its right mind would lock in a decade of wage and benefit increases? Is anyone, anywhere, smart enough to predict the conditions ten years hence that would dictate what should be in the contract?

Daley presented this boneheaded 10-year gratuity to his workers to “ensure labor peace” for his coveted 2016 Olympics. That in itself is a scandal, and should be enough to make the Olympic selection committee wonder about Daley’s competency to handle a global-sized event. If the Olympic organizers were fully informed they would know that when they arrive in 2016, they will have to deal with the local unions, in and out of government, and won’t they be surprised at what they find?

The Chicago Federation of Labor, of course, takes credit for working out a budget-balancing deal with the Daley administration that will allow a few hundred city workers to leave their jobs—with a $5,000 bonus for retiring members of the building trades and a $15,000 retirement incentive for laborers. I don’t begrudge the union members whatever they can get, but Daley deserves serious criticism for putting the city in such a financial hole to start with.


  • Deke (author) said:

    The city cries poor as it keeps wasting money on shoddy ornamental faux wrought iron fences and the like. Nobody believes in austerity budgeting.

  • Steve (author) said:

    Chicago is in for tough times.It’s hard to compete when you are a high cost place to do business.Do you want to be a long term creditor of the City of Chicago?

  • Orion (author) said:

    Dennis, stay in the burbs.

    The City life is too hard for a pantywaist suburbanite.

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