CUPE has a long history of defeating efforts to privatize public services. We have consistently demonstrated that privatization is more costly, less accountable and poorer quality than direct public services. Private contractors who offer services more cheaply usually do so only temporarily, until they can jack up prices. They cut corners compromising quality and pass on higher costs to service users. The case against privatization is mounting through our local struggles. Here are some examples of our success in defeating privatization.
Kingston Fights Garbage Privatization Coalition Style
Members of CUPE l09 successfully joined forces with a community coalition to defeat city plans to privatize residential garbage and recycling services. The city was initially wowed by claims from local company, Robinson Solutions, that they could save the city $1 million a year by giving them the contract for residential recycling and garbage collection. But they underestimated the collective strength of Kingston municipal workers and community opposition, who formed the Kingston Coalition against Privatization just before the municipal election. The coalition worked to make garbage privatization a key issue in the election campaign, charging the city with lack of public consultation, highlighting higher costs and reduced accountability with private garbage services. Leaflets were dropped at every household in Kingston, the coalition addressed the city council preceded by a lively picket in front of city hall. Lobbying focused on members of the City’s Environment and Transportation Committee, the group making the recommendation to council. By late October the committee recommended that no action be taken by the current council on the privatization plan. It was endorsed by a council vote of 16-0.
Public Sewage Treatment Plant Pledged in St. John’s
Because of CUPE’s efforts, municipal leaders in St. John’s, Newfoundland pledged that sewage treatment plants vital to the St. John’s harbour clean-up will be publicly-owned and operated. St. John’s rejected considering a multinational corporation to build this expensive infrastructure. St. John’s harbour has been rated the worst in the country by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. The municipalities involved in the clean-up are waiting for a commitment from the federal government to pay one third of the cost.
Winnipeg Stops Plans to Contract Out Wading Pool Maintenance
The Winnipeg City Council abandoned plans to contract out maintenance of 96 wading pools to volunteer community groups after the union and community groups gathered 5,000 signatures on CUPE cards to oppose the measures. A pilot plan failed and cost the city more. Members of CUPE 5000 are back at work in all Winnipeg pools.
Private Sector Can’t Compete with Vehicle Maintenance
An Alberta pilot project, jointly supported by CUPE 46 and the city of Medicine Hat showed that the private sector cannot compete with public sector workers. The pilot studied bumper to bumper repair costs for 22 police vehicles in Medicine Hat, comparing eleven cars serviced by the city mechanics and another eleven serviced by a local dealership. The private firm charged an average of $6.48 per kilometer compared to CUPE members’ $4.78 per kilometer. The difference in the shop rates of $40 at the city compared to $45 at the private firm, mainly explained the difference in price.
Serco Dumped from Recreation Facility
Serco, the facilities management giant that specializes in taking over municipal services, was dealt a major blow when the Cape Breton Regional Municipality decided in April 2000 to turf its contract with the multinational and operate its Centre 200 sports complex directly. CUPE 759 forced the municipality to reconsider its decision to contract out the Sydney sports complex by demonstrating we could run the facility for the same amount of money. The Cape Breton regional municipalities’ decision was the third time that year that municipalities rejected Serco’s services. Contracts with Ingersoll, Ontario and Weyburn, Saskatchewan were ended after public protests over reduced services and higher fees.
Plans to Contract Road Maintenance Stopped
Nova Scotia highway workers (CUPE 1867) forced Nova Scotia’s Tory government to back down last summer on a plan to privatize highway maintenance work in the province. A defining factor was the Local’s public campaign – Roads Are Not A Private Matter – which mobilized members across the province to knock on doors, approach politicians and solicit community leaders for support. By informing Nova Scotians about what was going on there was no way the Minister could ignore it. Despite the victory, the local remains sceptical of the Tories’ true agenda and alert to beat back renewed efforts to privatize.
Private Cleaners Cost More
In Edmonton, CUPE 474 fought back against a plan to contract out the cleaning of one-third of the schools. It entered into a test comparing five schools maintained by members of the local with five contracted out schools. For 17 months, results were independently monitored. The private companies cost more money, had massive turnover and flunked safety audits. Contracting out is now banned until 2003. In London, Ontario, the private cleaning company ServiceMaster, was kept out of the school board after CUPE found $151,000 worth of errors in its proposal.