The Annual Appropriation and Budget for Fiscal Year Beginning July 1, 2011 Resolution on the June 20th and June 27th City Council Agendas includes a final resolved clause referencing the Airport’s work to seek proposals for alternative management of the parking garage. As you are all aware, the Burlington Department of Public Works currently manages the airport parking garage and the Airport pays the Traffic Fund within DPW for the operational costs, including an additional management fee. The resolved clause in the resolution asks for a report to the City Council on the management of the garage and use of the management fee to fund the School Crossing Guard Program by the August 8 City Council meeting.
I understand the Airport needs to find more cost saving and revenue generating measures to help its operating net revenues meet its bond covenants, but focusing on cutting costs by potentially privatizing the airport parking garage management raises several serious collective bargaining issues and labor issues. My concerns are substaintial and I would encourage the Airport Commission, Airport management, Mayor and City Council to seriously consider these concerns.
First and foremost, contracting with a private company to run the airport parking garage would be privatizing public jobs. Doing so raises serious concerns around accountability, future costs, collective bargaining rights and jeopardizing quality jobs.
The City of Burlington went on record in the early 2000s to value every job within the city by adopting a city municipal livable wage ordinance (Article VI, Sec. 21-81). Most of the workers impacted by this ordinance are parking garage attendants and meter readers. The ordinance applies to any private contractor with the city (minus a handful of national airlines/companies at the Airport), who do business of $15K+ in value. With this ordinance, the city has established a definition of what a quality public job should be within Burlington – a livable wage with health insurance or extra compensation if the employer does not provide health insurance. Moreover, a city job in Burlington also means it is a quality job because it includes retirement, sick days, vacation, etc. Private city contractors are not required to provide health insurance or retirement benefits under the ordinance, much less the other city benefits. In reality, most private contractors will not provide benefits and pay the minimal wage required for parking garage jobs, so by using a private contractor, the city will weaken the quality of these jobs. It is important to note that the livable wage ordinance requires contractors to pay a higher wage (the FY12 figure will be $16.84.hr ($35,032)) if they do not provide health insurance, which would mean the Airport would save minimal money for wages and only a small amount by no longer offering retirement benefits to a handful of employees. Burlington should continue to be a good employer who values quality jobs and helps local people make a decent and livable living in Vermont, especially during an economic downturn.
Privatizing these airport services has been put forward as a cost saving measure, but in many cases, privatizing public services often ends up costing the same, if not more in the long-run. For example, many school districts have privatized bus and food services within public schools in Vermont. The first couple of years of the private contract may cost less than the school district's original costs, but that is often how contractors win bids, by low-balling their cost to secure the bid and then increasing the costs over the next few years to increase their profits. As a result, the school districts often find that contracts with private companies eventually go up in price. However, school districts usually sell off the infrastructure needed to operate those school services - buses and kitchen equipment - and wind up locked into contracts that continue to rise in cost with no recourse for reverting back to providing their own services. Make no mistake, private companies are in business to make profits and will do so running the garage by increasing fees to consumers and/or the airport. A municipal run parking garage is obviously not profit driven. The city's traditional 5% management fee that is paid to DPW goes to support another element of our traffic division - crossing guards - which is a win-win for residents.
If a private company manages the garage, the company is the employer of the workers it chooses to hire, not the city. Now the city hires, fires, and oversees all workers who operate the garage. If there are customer service or personnel concerns, the city can directly address those issues and thus, has direct authority over our garage. If a private company is managing the workers, it is the manager, not the city. The city's only recourse would be to look for another contractor when the contract expires with the company. While there are good companies with strong management systems, there are also companies who do not have good track records. Moreover, depending on the size and scope of the company, management may be hundreds of miles away, causing accountability issues. The airport has already had a brush with his very issue with the airport shuttle company that has currently caused the city to go to court to resolve a dispute with the private contractor who operates the shuttle.
Finally the DPW workers who are currently at the garage are covered under a collective bargaining agreement between AFSCME and the city. These workers have organized to form a union with their employer - the City of Burlington. Their union standing is based on their employer and it cannot be "transferred" to another private employer without the consent of that employer and the employees. In this day and age, it would be highly unlikely that any private company would agree to not only hire a pre-set list of employees, but to also automatically recognize them as a unionized group of employees. Moreover, the current master agreement (contract) with AFSCME bars the city from subcontracting bargaining unit work. In other words, the City would commit an unfair labor practice if it subcontracted existing work done by members of the bargaining unit. Not only would this create legal woes for the city, it is an unfair way to treat city workers, many of which have worked for the city for a number of years.