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Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Keywords: Public Works, Competitive Bidding

Infrastructure Pipe Installation

For several years the City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, relied on private contractors to provide two thirds of the citys water pipe infrastructure, with the remaining third of the work being done by city crews. In January 1997, the city announced plans to put the final third of the service out to competitive bid.

A Request for Proposals was issued for the service and several private firms expressed interest in the contract. The citys own crews were interested in the work as well, and a labor-management partnership committee quickly formed to prepare a bid.

Fort Lauderdales partnership programs are a product of CALM, the Cooperative Association of Labor and Management, an innovative program that employs the concepts of Total Quality Management to promote cooperation and understanding between labor and management and boost productivity for the city. The successful program has been in place since 1994 and includes sixteen sub-committees and over 200 employees.

The citys Public Services Water Pipe Committee prepared its proposal in less than three months. The committee was co-chaired by the union president and the director of labor relations for the city, who co-chair all partnership committees. Having these two established veterans on every committee helps to create a safe environment for our people, says Local President Cathy Dunn. This way we can establish trust among all parties early on, and get to the real work of developing our proposal. In addition to the co-chairs, the committee consisted of a supervisor, division manager, and four crew members. Each committee member is encouraged to participate fully in the development of the proposal, and any member of the team has the right to veto elements of the plan that they have problems with. All it takes is one no vote and the project stops, says Dunn.

Once the committee completed its proposal, it was then sent to an internal auditor to ensure that the committee's budget estimates were correct. Having this extra check in place added credibility to the employees proposal in the eyes of City Council and guaranteed that all project expenses were included in the bid.

Private sector bids for the job varied from $110 to $127 per linear foot. In contrast, the city crews won the contract with a bid of just $70 per foot. Public employees were able to provide the service at such a low cost by restructuring how the work was done. Work schedules were changed from five eight-hour days to four ten-hour days to reduce set up and travel time. Equally important, pipe crews doubled in size from six to twelve workers, following the example of successful private firms that do the same work.

Productivity has increased dramatically since the work was brought back in-house. In the first year alone, city crews managed to lay over three and a half miles of pipe. In comparison, private crews delivered an average of only one mile of pipe per year.

City officials were so impressed by the public employees work that the pipe contract was recently doubled to include two thirds of city pipe jobs. Since bringing the work back in, employment in the department has increased from one crew of six workers to two crews that employ over thirty people.

Case based on interview with Cathy Dunn, AFSCME Local 532, August 3, 1999. See also Florida City Workers Find New Ways of Improving Services, AFSCME Public Employee. Sept/Oct 1995. pp. 20-21; and AFSCME Local 532 and the City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida Cooperative Association of Labor and Management (CALM). AFSCME Partners for Change Series. ( 2 pp. 1998.