LCGRC item 12: Privatization and outsourcing of county functions

Loudoun’s 2013 budget proposal cuts a minuscule fifteen thousand dollar grant to Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, a public private partnership that has been operating since 1955. The money provides temporary housing to people suffering from mental illness as they transition back into the community. Through Friends extensive volunteer network the housing cost is only $400/month per person. If the person were hospitalized, the cost would be $19,000/month.

This is disturbing because a $15K line item in a $1.8B budget is a teeny-weeny target. How did the budget cutters find and eliminate this item? It seems ideological. The cutter must have been thinking

“Mental illness, bah!, it’s all in their head.  Tell them to get over it and give that $15K back to the hard working taxpayers.”

This is the behavior of a hack who cuts things out because he doesn’t know what they do and is too prideful, lazy and self-important to find out. Was there no due-diligence? This decision is an attack on a vulnerable population and a well-respected public/private partnership that provides needed services at little cost to taxpayers.

The taking reforming isn’t limited to small line items. The county tried to take $25.4M in school bus driver benefits but the cut met with resistance from the 3000 bus drivers who depend on those benefits. Nonetheless, the first commenter on the Loudoun Times Mirror revealed the ideology of the cutters.

Sorry bus drivers, but no part time employees I know get ANY benefits!  Go ahead, walk out of your cushy jobs.  They will be filled by those wanting any sort of jobs, benefits or not.  This is like the Verizon crybabies who didn’t realize how good they had it.  Get in your buses, do your job, and. .no, unless you work full time, YOU GET NO BENEFITS, just like the rest of us who work for private businesses.  Taxes are strangling me, enough of this nonsense!

Does a school bus driver have a “cushy job”? I never thought so, and for now, the school board did not think so either. The benefits are funded in 2013, but the battle is not over. The 2012 sweep has a red pen and a mission, and they’ll pressurize labor and human services across the board to see what they can break, or erase, entirely.

At the February 7, Reform Commission meeting, the commissioners scrutinized a list of  thirty-four items that strangely failed to appear on the RC web site. Here is item #12 (emphasis mine).

12. Privatization and outsourcing of county functions

Assess current use of contract services as well as where this could be expanded cost-effectively.

Assess areas where government could remove itself and permit the function to be performed by the private sector, whether under contract or on its own.

Areas might include school buses and drivers, school food services and cafeteria employees, janitorial services, and solid waste management; assess FirstGroup America and others that could provide school bus drivers.

FirstGroup is a UK-based multinational corporation. Their web site elicited a visceral negative reaction. I’m sorry. I can’t verbalize the reaction with much more than “Ick!“. Aren’t we smart enough to manage our own bus drivers. I don’t see what outsourcing bus drivers does except to wash our hands of the labor relations “problem” and delegate it to a faceless multi-national.

Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin)

But maybe that’s the intent. This is purely conjecture, but I believe the source of this proposal is Geary Higgins VP of Labor Relations for the National Electrical Contractors Association NECA. In that capacity, Higgins job duties include “establishing, maintaining, and repairing the relationships with all levels of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

In English, it means that NECA members negotiate tough agreements with the union, or with electricians employed by “open shops”.  After a tough negotiation, or the award of a non-union contract, Geary manages the broken relationship with the IBEW, perhaps even extending “an offer they can’t refuse.“. NECA speak is Orwellian. For example, here is a portion of an abstract from a study of union versus non-union shops.

This study determined that the convoluted expectations and regulations of the labor union are an added cost without providing any added value to the stakeholders. On the other hand, the open shop contractor enjoys a higher level of freedom and therefore lower cost.

I’ve sometimes wondered what that abstract term “freedom” meant in some contexts. Now I know. It’s the freedom to screw if you’re management or get screwed if you’re labor.

7 thoughts on “LCGRC item 12: Privatization and outsourcing of county functions

  1. Engleberp X. Circusmusic

    Privatization always makes my teeth itch. The most common argument I hear for it is that it saves money by cutting out government inefficiencies and so on. What they don’t mention is that while the government runs it to provide services to people, companies run it to make a profit. The money they get isn’t being used to benefit citizens for the common good, it’s being funneled into the pockets of the company executives.

    The only example I can think of at the moment is the difference between Dulles Toll Road and the Greenway… profits from the government-controlled Dulles Toll Road are being used for much-needed improvements to the local infrastructure (i.e., construction of the Silver Line). Meanwhile, the privately-owned Greenway is the most expensive toll road per mile in the nation, and _still_ can’t manage to turn a profit.

  2. Epluribusunum

    Areas might include school buses and drivers, school food services and cafeteria employees, janitorial services, and solid waste management; assess FirstGroup America and others that could provide school bus drivers.

    The obvious question is, if LCPS can’t find people to drive our school buses for less compensation, where is FirstGroup going to get them? I’m intrigued.

  3. Pariahdog Post author

    I’ve seen many organizations “rebadged” in my day. In this case, the bus drivers would turn in their LCPS badges and receive FirstGroup badges. It isn’t a pleasant experience, and again, you have to ask, how does rebadging improve service? The new owners have to pay the new management and they have to show a profit for the stockholders. It only improves a situation where things are horribly mismanaged in the first place.

    I do want to make a minor correction. The figures should be $24M for 2000 employees. The county is paying $1000/month or $12000/year per part-time employee. The benefits include retirement, medical, vision, dental, disability, and leave. This seems to be a pretty nice benefits package. If property taxes account for $1B, then this is 2.4% of your tax bill, or $24/$1000 taxes paid. I’m personally willing to pay an extra $100 in property taxes so that the school bus drivers can receive a benefits package. Now if we can only downsize those monstrous high schools, and perhaps build a high school with no football stadium.

  4. Elder Berry

    That’s right, the government doesn’t have to make a profit, a private provider does. Profit on top of the cost. Where is the efficiency in that? I’ve worked for government contractors; there is always a nice profit built into any bid. Part-time employees should get pro-rated benefits. It is only disrespect of working people that has made any other pattern a habit in this country. Why do we tolerate that.

  5. Epluribusunum

    The only way they could realize a profit here is explained by our ill-tempered Times-Mirror commenter: “They will be filled by those wanting any sort of jobs, benefits or not.” By those desperate enough to accept “any sort of job,” and who have no power to resist exploitation by a multinational corporation. Gosh, wherever would they find people like that?

  6. Elder Berry

    What sort of country are we going to have if our own government is exerting a relentless downward pressure on wages by sending jobs to multinational corporations? Will we be surprised if all our bus drivers end up being on contract from Angola or Ukraine or Slovenia?

    I just spoke to a well-respected economic consultant from Norway. In Norway, there is a council of equal representation from labor, government and business that hammers out all the legislation concerning jobs and the economy. How can we have a decent economy here if beating workers wages down overall is the primary goal? That plus all they are building in strip malls county-wide is minimum wage jobs. Workers are not the enemy and business is not the king. School bus drivers perform a needed service and cheapest is not best. We should make rational cuts and sacrifices, not stupid ones.

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