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Beverly Hills Courier
Beverly Hills Courier

City of Beverly Hills | News

Beverly Hills City Council Approves Amended Agreements with Waste Hauler Athens Services

Beverly Hills City Council Approves Amended Agreements with Waste Hauler Athens Services
BY Ana Figueroa December 13, 2019

The Beverly Hills City Council voted on Dec. 10 to extend the existing agreement as amended with its waste hauler Athens Services (“Athens”). The Council also voted to approve a new eight-year franchise agreement with Athens for commercial solid waste collection and residential solid waste processing. The agreement will take effect in 2022. 

The agreements as initially proposed attracted opposition from community organizations, environmentalists, concerned citizens, and in particular, the union representing the Athens workers, Teamsters Local 396. Representatives of those groups voiced their opposition at previous Council meetings, among other venues. They returned on Dec. 10 to reiterate their concerns. Objections fell into three categories. Namely, the lack of a competitive bidding process; reduced environmental waste diversion requirements; and allegations that Athens has engaged in unfair practices toward its employees. The Council grappled with those three issues as well. 

Diversion Requirements 

The topic of waste diversion took up a large part of the discussion at the hearing. Waste diversion is essentially the process of diverting waste from landfills by means of recycling or other measures. The new franchise agreement proposed a reduction in diversion from 60 percent down to 53 percent. (By way of reference, Assembly Bill 341 established a recycling goal of 75 percent by the year 2020 for commercial establishments in the state.) 

The diversion rates at issue in Beverly Hills involve a number of different considerations. Relevant factors include changes in the global recycling market and the composition of waste in the City. (Some 1000 tons of food waste per month, alone). In the end, the Council insisted on modifications to the new franchise agreement to bring municipal waste diversion requirements back up to 60 percent.

Councilman Julian Gold noted that the changes were needed to fulfill the expectations of the community to be “responsible participants in a sustainable environment. We need to do what we can in order to achieve that. Our ability to get to at least 60 percent diversion is increasingly important. And if that does in fact costs us a little more to do that, it is money well spent.” 

Labor Relations 

The issue generating perhaps the most heated debate at the Dec. 10 hearing pertained to labor relations between Athens and its employees. Adan Alvarez, spokesperson for Teamsters Local 396, told the Courier prior to the hearing that the company has retaliated against workers who have spoken out against Athens. 

“Right after our workers voiced concerns to the City at the November 19 Council meeting, Athens announced they were laying off workers by December 31,” said Alvarez. “And, one of the Athens workers who was brave enough to speak out at the Council meeting in November was threatened by an Athens manager,” added Alvarez. 

Laying off experienced drivers familiar with the routes in Beverly Hills would clearly be detrimental to residents, noted Alvarez. 

Members of the Council expressed their own concerns regarding employee retention. 

“We want to have happy, well paid, well taken care of employees, both of our own and from Athens,” said Gold. Those sentiments were echoed by his fellow Councilmembers. The net result was a promise from Athens executives that no one would lose their job. 

“It’s our intent to hire every single one of them and let them drive the same route they were driving,” said an Athens representative. 

Councilman Julian Gold noted that the changes were needed to fulfill the expectations of the community to be “responsible participants in a sustainable environment. We need to do what we can in order to achieve that. Our ability to get to at least 60 percent diversion is increasingly important. And if that does in fact costs us a little more to do that, it is money well spent.” 

Labor Relations 

The issue generating perhaps the most heated debate at the Dec. 10 hearing pertained to labor relations between Athens and its employees. Adan Alvarez, spokesperson for Teamsters Local 396, told the Courier prior to the hearing that the company has retaliated against workers who have spoken out against Athens. 

“Right after our workers voiced concerns to the City at the November 19 Council meeting, Athens announced they were laying off workers by December 31,” said Alvarez. “And, one of the Athens workers who was brave enough to speak out at the Council meeting in November was threatened by an Athens manager,” added Alvarez. 

Laying off experienced drivers familiar with the routes in Beverly Hills would clearly be detrimental to residents, noted Alvarez. 

Members of the Council expressed their own concerns regarding employee retention. 

“We want to have happy, well paid, well taken care of employees, both of our own and from Athens,” said Gold. Those sentiments were echoed by his fellow Councilmembers. The net result was a promise from Athens executives that no one would lose their job. 

“It’s our intent to hire every single one of them and let them drive the same route they were driving,” said an Athens representative. 

Councilwoman Lili Bosse noted, “In terms of labor, I felt like I wasn’t ready to move forward. Now I’m hearing very loud and clear that everybody will still have a job and perhaps a better job and better benefits. That makes me feel more comfortable in the labor element.” 

Alvarez remains skeptical, however. 

“We hope that the Council will hold Athens to this commitment that the workers won’t lose their jobs. We have to make sure that the language about employee retention is strong enough to support the workers,” he tells the Courier. 

Competitive Bidding 

The lack of competitive bidding also received a great deal of attention at the Dec. 10 hearing. But after taking into account industry consolidation and other dynamic market factors, as well as previous responses to RFPs, the general consensus, in the words of Councilman Robert Wunderlich, was that it was “unlikely that we would get a better pricing structure than this.” 

Bosse explained that her feelings on the topic of competitive bidding had shifted. “This meeting has been very important in terms of getting a lot of clarity. Intuitively, when you think of giving a 10-year no bid contract, it appears that we’re not being fiscally responsible and we’re not thinking long term. However, in understanding all the moving parts to this, I see it very differently now,” she said. 

Shana Epstein, Director of Public Works for the City of Beverly Hills, felt it a misnomer to ever refer to the agreements in question as “no-bid.” 

“The contract was let out for an RFP in 2016. We’ve been negotiating ever since,” she told the Courier. 

“In the end, we got a great deal and the Council chose to be a leader in sustainability,” Epstein added. 

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