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Waste Management workers brace for contract decision in DeKalb

Waste Management workers anxiously await council’s decision

Jordan Jackowiak, a driver for Waste Management, travels his route Wednesday in DeKalb. The DeKalb City Council will be voting Monday whether to retain Waste Management as the city's waste service provider.
Jordan Jackowiak, a driver for Waste Management, travels his route Wednesday in DeKalb. The DeKalb City Council will be voting Monday whether to retain Waste Management as the city's waste service provider.

DeKALB – Jordan Jackowiak was running way behind on his route Wednesday afternoon, but not because he wasn’t busting his hump. Quite the contrary. Every time he dumped a recycling bin into the basket on the front of his Waste Management truck, he hopped out and slipped a notice under the bin’s lid.

Jackowiak, 27, of DeKalb, has driven for Waste Management for more than five years, and now he’s worried sick. The notice is informing the residents along his route – his family, as he refers to them – that on Monday night the DeKalb City Council will vote on whether to bring in a new company after Waste Management has served the community nearly 30 years.

“It’s not just a paycheck,” Jackowiak said Wednesday afternoon after hopping back into his truck while working his route in the Hillcrest neighborhood. “It’s our future.”

With a five-year agreement with Waste Management set to expire
Aug. 31, this spring the city sought bids on a new contract for waste disposal for about 9,000 DeKalb households. Of the three bidders, Morton Grove-based Lakeshore Recycling Systems offered the low bid, about $1.32 less a month per resident for the list of services most comparable to Waste Management’s bid.

Both Waste Management and Lakeshore’s bids are going to be less than the $20.60 households currently pay each month, and both include on-demand hazardous household materials and e-waste. Lakeshore’s bid is $15.58 a month, compared with $16.90 by Waste Management. The hazardous and e-waste disposal will be new, whereas the City Council seemed to want to do away with local yard waste disposal sites, DeKalb Public Works Director Tim Holdeman said.

If the council goes with Lakeshore, the city stands to save almost $400,000 a year, which Holdeman proposed putting toward street repairs. If it goes with Waste Management, it will save about $235,000 a year, because Lakeshore is offering a steeply discounted rate on the hazardous household and e-waste disposal.

Dave Jacobson, alderman in DeKalb’s 1st Ward, said he preferred to see tax relief for the residents. Holdeman said the allocation of funds won’t likely be up for vote Monday.

Vaughn Kuerschner, public sector representative for Waste Management, said the company reached out to the city earlier this week with an offer to negotiate the rate, but hasn’t heard back yet.

“We are willing and ready,” he said.

Holdeman said it will require City Council approval to renegotiate the bid, which could push the process down the road.

Jackowiak was one of several Waste Management employees, including his father, Paul, who’s worked there since the year Jordan was born – 1991 – who attended the June 11 City Council meeting to hear Holdeman’s presentation, as well as council members’ reactions.

Three aldermen, Jacobson, 4th Ward Alderman Patrick Fagan and 6th Ward Alderman Mike Verbic made it pretty clear they’d vote up a resolution to hire the lowest bidder: Lakeshore.

“We put it out to bid for a reason – to get the best price,” Jacobson said.

“I’m in the business of putting out bids,” Fagan said. “You have to go with the lowest bid. It’s not our money. It’s our citizens’ money.”

Jackowiak said his stomach turned and he didn’t sleep much that night.

“I walked out of the meeting, and I was sick,” he said. “All the guys were down, but I said, ‘Hey, guys. We’ve got two weeks. It’s do or die. We either put up a fight, or we just let it go.’ ”

That likely would mean job-hunting for Jackowiak, who just bought a house in DeKalb a year and a half ago, and others. He said he figures about a half-dozen workers could be at risk.

“I’m still toward the bottom of the seniority list,” he said. “I hate talking about it. I hate thinking about it. I’d probably be out of a job.”

Kuerschner spoke at the meeting, as did Josh Connell, managing partner for Lakeshore.

Connell touted his company’s focus on green initiatives.

“It’s innovation, creativity and attention to detail,” he told the council.

At the meeting, and Wednesday afternoon, Kuerschner emphasized the mark Waste Management workers have made on the community. He said 15 of Waste Management’s 44 employees who work in DeKalb live in the city.

“We’ve had a long partnership, and I think it’s a very good partnership,” Kuerschner said.

“Our drivers have a lot of experience in town. They know the community and the residents so well. They’re very proud about providing quality service. That’s what we do, and we’re part of the community.”

Those workers are campaigning leading up the meeting – Jackowiak in particular. He posted on Facebook a call to action to residents and employees to reach out to their aldermen, and it was shared about 200 times.

He said he’s wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as a sanitation worker since he was 2, when his father used to bring home discarded toys.

“He used to bring me little souvenirs home from work, from out of the garbage, which is probably pretty weird to most people,” Jackowiak said. “He’d bring little Matchbox cars, remote control cars. I’ve wanted to do this forever.”

What sets him and his co-workers apart, he said, is that passion, and an emphasis on customer service. He said some of the workers are volunteers in the community and youth sports coaches. He said it’s common for them to spot a resident on their route and bring their emptied can up to the house – Anything I can do to help them have a great day,” Jackowiak said.

Kuerschner said he couldn’t speak to what the company will do, should the council go with Lakeshore, but Jackowiak said he hopes most of the staff will be able to stay on at the office at 115 Simonds Ave.

“I’d like to think they’d keep the site open, because we service a lot of the surrounding communities like Sycamore,” he said. “I hope the senior guys will be OK, but we’re all kind of waiting until Monday to see what’s going to happen.”

Lakeshore bought Cortland-based DC Trash in November. DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith expressed concern during the meeting that if a new vendor used a different landfill than the one in Cortland, the county could miss out on about $50,000 in tipping fees, but Connell said Lakeshore will consider using the Cortland site.

Holdeman spoke highly of both Waste Management and Lakeshore.

“[Lakeshore has] a number of communities that are very high on their service, and the ease with which they’ve switched over to their services,” he said. “It’s basically risk-free for us to go with Waste Management going forward.”

Jackowiak said being replaced isn’t as simple as bringing in a new fleet of trucks.

“It would take a long time to establish what we have here,” he said. “It’s taken us 25 or 30 years to get to know these people, and there’s new people in the community every day.”

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