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Norwalk Sends Arbitration Award for Council Vote

NORWALK, Conn. – Hal Alvord sat with his head bowed Tuesday night as members of the Common Council voted on a proposal to outsource garbage collection in Norwalk.

The council's personnel committee spent an hour and a half going over an arbitration panel's review of the city's proposed contract with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2405. Alvord, head of the Department of Public Works, pitched his case for outsourcing. It is authorized in the contract and approved by the arbitrators.

But the committee voted to send the contract to the full Common Council, saying it should have a vote, too.

Most indicated they were in favor of the contract but against outsourcing. Democrat Anna Duleep said the contract authorized outsourcing as an option, but that doesn't mean it will happen.

"The issue will come before the council," she said. "There may be people who voted for this award. But if the issue were introduced by this administration and came before the council, some of those people may choose down the road to vote against privatization."

Republican Doug Hempstead commented on whether the council has the authorization to outsource garbage collection. "We don't have to, we have the right to," he said.

Voting to advance it might imply that the committee approved of the contract. Democrat Matt Miklave said he wanted to forestall the appearance of "being for it before being against it." If the committee did not advance the contract, it would automatically be approved, he said.

"This is one of those procedural votes that can totally confuse and can totally be misconstrued by the public," he said.

Republican Joanne Romano was among those who spoke against outsourcing the garbage pickup.

Alvord said last week that many council members had not heard the numbers in the case to outsource. He presented that case in an executive session.

"Clearly they don't understand," he said. "I don't know how anybody can sit here and say, 'I don't see any cost savings.' But, you know, some of these positions were set in concrete long before this."

Alvord had also expressed concern about what would happen to union members if the arbitrator's decision were rejected and the contract sent back for another arbitration panel to review.

"They're going to spend months going through all the transcripts and then they're going to issue the same award," he said. "They're going to look at the 180 exhibits that the city put in and the zero that the union put in. They're going to read the last best offers, they're going to read the same thing, and at that point it goes into effect."

Hempstead agreed that the arbitrators would likely issue the same result.

"Statistically, it's 99.44 percent sure," he said. "They are rarely overturned. A feel-good motion would be to reject it and send it back to arbitration, knowing that in reality you're going to get the same thing back. The other thing is deal with the contract the way it's been done and that is an option."

Union members would wait for their raises and a new panel of arbitrators would cost the city $25,000 to $40,000. If the panel came up with the same result, the contract would automatically go into effect.

But that would not automatically mean outsourcing.

"We won the right to go to contract," Hempstead said. "We don't have to, but we won the right to. There's a big difference. The city can continue the way it wants to operate and never continue that option."

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