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Sunday, March 13, 2011


Automation, and Jobs - The Moving Finger


Garbage Collectors and Bankers

Jobs, jobs, where are the jobs?  The statistics for jobless Americans continue to be depressing.  Not only signs of improvement are few but also reports that some among the current unemployed will never find work.  

Oddly, those who played a major role in the economic slump of 2008 -- the movers and shakers on Wall Street -- are doing fine.  None were punished for manipulating the financial markets. They continue to prosper.

Looking out of the window,  on the weekly garbage collection day I used to see the lumbering trucks go through the neighborhood.  Each truck had an operator and a  helper who positioned the garbage containers alongside the curb so that the grabbing mechanism controlled by the operator could lift and empty them into the cavernous belly of the truck and lower the empty container for the helper to place them back on the curb.

Late last year, garbage collection (waste disposal) contracts were awarded to a large company.  New, highly automated equipment were introduced.  Now, I no longer see helpers;  the operator maneuvers the grabbing mechanism from inside the cabin to access the containers alongside the curb, lifts, empties, and repositions them.  No clue how many trucks are used by the county.  But I assume the helpers lost their jobs.  Since the new contractor now serves counties throughout this area, the helpers are not likely to find work unless they retrain -- easier said than done.  Retrain for what?

In the meantime, garbage collection fee paid by homeowners has been increased.  Interesting item in SJ Mercury News about what happened in Pacifica, CA, when a homeowner fought the system.

Pacifica resident wins settlment against trash hauler

Residents will have the right to protest upcoming trash service fee increases in Pacifica, thanks to a lawsuit settlement won by a local resident who challenged the city's no-bid contract with Recology.
Longtime waste hauler watchdog Lionel Emde complained that trash service ratepayers were getting ripped off when the city approved a 17-year no-bid contract with Recology in February 2010. The waste and recycling company quickly imposed a 5 percent rate hike, and the city got a $100,000 bonus "assignment fee." Pacifica's general fund was guaranteed annual franchise fees amounting to an 11 percent take of Recology's gross income. Pacificans' garbage fees are already among the highest in San Mateo County.

One can think about a price for progress.  In today's world automation has become a fact of life; it increases margins of profit for businesses, and in many instances mean efficient service.  There are exceptions, of course.  Just call customer service department of an utility company when you have a problem and then go through the frustrating, experience of  pushing buttons on the key pad, and long waiting time to speak to a live person.  If you get disconnected during the process, take a deep breath and start from scratch.  How do we measure the effects of lack of human touch? 


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