Mayor Decides Against Privatizing City’s 311 Call Center

Source: NBC Chicago, October 21, 2015

Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided to put on hold a proposal to privatize the city’s 311 call center after several aldermen complained during Wednesday’s City Council meeting. … The proposal was part of the mayor’s budget plan, which included a massive property tax hike and a tax on e-cigarettes, among other things. If the call center were to be privatized, residents calling to complain about rats or report potholes would speak to employees of a private company instead of city workers, as they do now. … Opponents, including many 311 operators, said the outsourcing would be “harmful and wrong.” … They cited the added burden of training new employees and the loss of jobs to the city as negative side effects of the privatization.


Emanuel Pulls Plan To Privatize 311
Source: Chicagoist, October 21, 2015

Emanuel decided to pull his plan to privatize the city’s 311 system Wednesday morning, the Sun-Times reports. Last month, Emanuel said that by outsourcing the service to a private company the city would save “a million dollars each year,” and that the city didn’t have the money to upgrade it, which he estimated the city would be $40 to $50 million. … But many aldermen and the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, the union that represents 311 workers, were opposed to the measure, especially given the history of previous privatization fails in Chicago.

Emanuel shelves plan to privatize 311 non-emergency system
Source: Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, October 21, 2015

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday shelved his controversial plan to privatize Chicago’s 311 non-emergency system after a rebellion by more than two-thirds of the City Council. Hours before the mayor’s latest retreat, 36 aldermen signed a letter to the mayor urging Emanuel to reconsider. They argued that services so pivotal to their residents should not be out-sourced. They must be provided by Chicagoans who know the city and its neighborhoods. … Emanuel has argued that the privatization plan has less to do with the $1 million in savings and more to do with the $40 million or $50 million that needs to be spent to upgrade what was once a ground-breaking, award-winning system.

Aldermen, union call on mayor to drop 311 privatization plan
Source: John Bryne, Chicago Tribune, October 21, 2015

The Tribune reported Wednesday that the mayor has decided not to go forward with seeking a private company to operate the 311 system, which Chicagoans use to call for non-emergency services like tree trimming and graffiti removal. The letter from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the aldermen says that “privatizing 311 will result in the loss of quality jobs in our communities. This is not only harmful to the affected individuals and their families but sends the wrong message to all those who wonder if our city’s leadership truly is committed to creating good family-supporting jobs in our city.” …

Opinion: Privatizing 311 call center bad deal for Chicagoans
Source: Alderman Chris Taliaferro, Alderman Milly Santiago, and Alderman John Arena, Chicago Sun-Times, October 19, 2015

… We need look no further for evidence than the disastrous decision to contract out the janitorial services at our schools to ARAMARK. Principals complain about new infestations of rodents and insects, school floors are rarely polished, the trash may sit uncollected for days —  all because the for-profit corporate contractors have radically reduced the size of the custodial workforce and there are far too few janitors to keep up with the daily wear and tear on school buildings. … People who have been employed as public servants are now being targeted because they receive benefits and protections afforded them as unionized workers. … Yet Chicago’s 311 service is cost effective. According to research, it costs an average of $3.40 across the nation to answer a call, with some cities paying as much as $4 to $5. Chicago’s average cost of answering a call is $1.40, less than half the average cost. Furthermore, staffing in 311 went down by almost 15 percent on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift between 2012 and 2015, while call volume increased by 45 percent. For this level of efficiency, the administration rewards with a pink slip.

Opinion: Premature to consider privatizing 3-1-1 center
Source: Andy Shaw, President and CEO of the Better Government Association, Chicago Sun-Times, October 11, 2015

The timing is odd because the administration recently sent an enlightened privatization ordinance to the Council for approval, so it’s logical for the city to wait until it’s analyzed, and then adopted, before embarking on new privatization initiatives. … In July, Emanuel introduced the ordinance to “ensure that any potential privatization in the future would be appropriately evaluated, publicly debated, and, if accepted, would be subject to ongoing oversight.” The ordinance has 40 aldermanic co-sponsors but hasn’t been heard in committee yet, so it’s premature to consider privatizing 3-1-1, and the lesser-reported but still significant privatization of city-administered HIV clinics, until the rigorous process that was drafted, sponsored and touted by the mayor has been approved.

Emanuel’s ‘throwaways’: Aldermen hope 311 proposal is just politics as usual
Source: Lauren Chooljian, WBEZ, October 8, 2015

In the midst of calling for a nearly $600-million property tax increase, a $9.50-garbage-collection fee and a host of other fees and fines to help the city dig itself out of its financial troubles, the mayor also wants the city to privatize what some aldermen call the “backbone” of the city’s service structure. … But when you look a little closer at the mayor’s 311 plan, there are a few caveats. It’s too early to say what vendor would even want to help the city with upgrades, the city hasn’t initiated a search. And even the budget director, Alex Holt, shared that the 72 positions that could be on line are actually still funded in the proposed 2016 budget. Lastly, there’s the financial element: The mayor’s plan is only estimated to bring in about a $1 million in savings — a drop in the bucket of the more than $9 billion overall budget. And those savings likely wouldn’t be achieved very quickly.

Aldermen criticize Emanuel 311 privatization plan
Source: John Byrne and Bill Ruthhart, Chicago Tribune, September 30, 2015

Office of Emergency Management and Communications Director Gary Schenkel faced repeated questions during a budget hearing about the wisdom of outsourcing the service, which handles nonemergency calls from residents requesting things like rat baiting, tree trimming and graffiti removal. … On Wednesday, Schenkel said the upgrades would cost more in the neighborhood of $25 million. He was vague on the question of how exactly the city would realize the savings Emanuel outlined. … About 60 workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees work at the call center, and the union brought two of them to City Hall to talk to reporters Wednesday. Louis Shuttlesworth, an eight-year operator at the 311 center, said outsourcing the work would lead to problems with inexperienced workers trying to coordinate services from dozens of different departments in neighborhoods across Chicago.

Aldermen rail against 311 privatization
Source: Tina Sfondeles, Chicago Sun, September 30. 2015

Many Chicago aldermen stood staunchly against the privatization of the city’s 311 call center on Wednesday as the emergency management director testified that nothing is set in stone. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in his budget address last week that he’s looking into a plan to privatize the nonemergency 311 call center, which he said would save $1 million annually and would help update the call center’s technology. But that could mean the layoffs of 73 operators and five supervisors, 50 of them represented by AFSCME.

Many alderman weary of privatizing city’s 311 system
Source: Gaynor Hall, WGNtv, September 30, 2015

Mayor Emanuel’s plan to privatize the city’s 311 non-emergency phone system isn’t going over well.  Several aldermen say they have concerns local workers will be replaced by overseas operators. The city’s 311 center gets about 4 million calls a year. The executive director of OEMC, Gary Schenkel, answered questions about the plan at a city council budget hearing today. … Chicago’s 311 program was one of the first in the country and it would be the first to privatize.

Is Outsourcing Next for Chicago’s 311 Operation?
Source: Russell Berman, The Atlantic, September 29, 2015

Buried in the middle of a budget address last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city which “invented” 311 would also become the first to privatize its operations—a move that he said would save the Windy City upwards of a $1 million. The proposal caught many by surprise, including the public employee union whose members man Chicago’s 311 call center. … Chicago officials say the city’s 311 hotline receives 4 million calls a year and that outsourcing its operations would help improve its performance during peak hours as well as its ability to serve the city’s many non-English speakers. But they had few details as to how a privately-run system would work because the city has yet to put out a request for bids from outside vendors. The city has already outsourced the call-center operations for water billing, but those private operators are based in Chicago, not overseas.

Emanuel wants to privatize 311
Source: John Bryne, The Chicago Tribune, September 22, 2015

…His idea of privatizing the 311 call center came in his 2016 budget address, saying it would save the city “about a million dollars a year” to replace union workers with outside contractors. … The mayor later said bringing in an outside operator would save the city the cost of making much-needed upgrades to the technology at the nonemergency information center, which would cost considerably more than the operations savings. … And the details were not spelled out in budget documents, which showed a proposed reduction of only about $237,000 on 311 services next year. It also showed the same number of employees.