Union fights approval of Fresno garbage privatization

FRESNO, Calif.

While the city will net $2.5 million a year from the company, former City Council Member Les Kimber warned the current council they were making a big mistake by selling off all the city's garbage trucks and equipment for a fraction of what it's worth.

"If this agreement goes through this will be the greatest gift of public property in the city of Fresno," Kimber said. "The whole thing is irresponsible and short sighted."

The nearly 200 city garbage workers would be offered jobs with Mid Valley for one year, but at lower pay and benefits. The union representative for the workers, Marina Magdelano says the council members who support the deal and Mayor Ashley Swearengin are hiding behind exaggerated budget problems to do union busting.

"All of them have a huge hate for unions," Magdelano said. "If you look at who voted last night it was all along the party lines. It was the Republicans against the Democrats, it was whites versus the minorities."

Those who supported privatization were Lee Brand, Larry Westerlund, Clint Olivier and Andreas Borgeas. All are white. Those who opposed are Sal Quintero, who is Hispanic, Oliver Baines, who is African American, and Blong Xiong, who is Hmong. But Mayor Swearengin says this is all about money. The primary goal of privatizing is to ease what she says is the city's five million dollar budget hole.

"The reality is our economic situation dictates that we make changes to the way we do things at City Hall."

But the fight is not over the union is launching a petition drive on Monday. The goal is to force a special election that will let the citizens of Fresno vote on the controversial deal.

Magdelano says the union is counting on lots of help. "We are working collectively with other groups, other labor groups, community based organizations that want to help us."

The signature gathering will start on Monday, Christmas Eve. They will have just one month to gather 21 thousand signatures.

Magdelano says if they succeed the city will have 80 days to either repeal the privatization ordinance, or call for a special election. Magdelano says the city will have to bear the cost of holding the election.

If the petition drive fails the privatization is expected to take place in March. The city says customers will receive the same level of service from Mid Valley. The company is offering current city garbage employees a job, for at least one year.

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