Cardi pulls plug on DPW bid, but Lombardi undeterred

Cardi pulls plug on DPW bid, but Lombardi undeterred

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Local union members packed Town Hall last week to voice their opposition to a plan to privatize the Department of Public Works, only to learn that a bid by Cardi Corp. to run the DPW had already been pulled off the table.

Council President Kristen Catanzaro last Tuesday read the letter from Cardi announcing the decision, drawing loud applause from dozens of union members from North Providence and surrounding communities.

Mayor Charles Lombardi told The Breeze that despite the setback, he is not giving up his goal of having a private public works department he believes would run at a lower cost and provide better service to town residents than it is now.

Lombardi said he was "disappointed" about the news but understood why the decision was made by Cardi officials.

"Reading between the lines, I just think the they're a professional outfit and didn't want to get in the middle of some of the political nonsense," he said.

By "nonsense," Lombardi said he believed the questions coming from some Town Council members about whether Cardi would be able to handle certain duties, like snow plowing, ultimately led them to pull their bid. Cardi officials could not be reached for comment.

Council members, led by President Kristen Catanzaro, had said they simply wanted assurances that all information submitted by Cardi as part of a request for proposal process was accurate and that the company would be able to provide the services needed.

Lombardi said he plans to "revisit" the privatization process, but probably not until next spring. One of the reasons indicated to him by Cardi officials on why they were pulling their bid was because they didn't want to take over the department during the unpredictable snow season, he said.

"There was some concern that this would be in the middle of the winter," he said. "Could they do it? I'm sure they could do it, but there is a period of adjusting and getting used to it."

Since town officials took longer than 90 days to make a decision on a private DPW, the general timeframe spelled out as part of the bidding process, Cardi was able to pull its bid with no issue, said Lombardi.

Cardi officials gave no official explanation on why they were backing out.

"We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused," stated their letter.

Lombardi would not say whether he believes Cardi will bid again when he tries again next year for a private DPW. The only other bidder for the job back in May was R.T. Nunes and Sons Inc., of West Warwick, which submitted a bid of about $2 million to run the department for one year, more than $400,000 more than Cardi's initial bid of $1.54 million.

J. Michael Downey, president of Rhode Island Council 94 AFSCME, AFL-CIO, told council members at last Tuesday's meeting that local union members were happy to have job security for a little longer, but he still wanted to "go on the record" to tell them "where we're coming from."

The union is not happy with Lombardi over repeated statements about the department's performance on the radio and in the newspapers, said Downey, attacks he says go against the union's demand of "respect for workers." Ongoing contract talks should be done behind closed doors, "not on talk shows" and "not in the newspapers," said Downey.

Union workers "love their jobs and they don't want to lose their jobs," he said. Leaders of the Local 1491-A of Council 94 represent "dignified workers" who want to continue running the North Providence DPW in a "dignified fashion" for "another 25 years," he said.

"We know you're happy with them," he told the council.

Prior to Cardi pulling its bid, members of Lombardi's administration had been claiming that the move would save the town more than $500,000 a year after year one of a five-year contract. Those savings were very conservative, according to the mayor.

Lombardi has long had a stormy relationship with DPW workers, making frequent jabs at union members for everything from taking too many bathroom breaks to standing around not working.

But union members insist that they are strong workers and provide a service no private company could provide at the same level. The department has lost many of its workers and is doing more with fewer resources, they say.