County Contracts

I was angered and amazed upon reading about the severe problems afflicting the county's contracting-out program ("Delays in Repairs of County Vehicles May Cost Contractor," Metro, Feb. 17). Angry, because the problems so often associated with contracting public services to private companies were predicted and could have been avoided. My amazement stems from the new heights of arrogance that have apparently infected the private sector.

When Proposition A (the passage of which allowed the county to contract with private vendors for services provided by county employees) was being debated in 1978, the public was inundated with claims of increased efficiency and million-dollar tax savings that would result from contracting-out. Conservative supervisors and their ideological friends assured us that the private sector, by definition, was superior to the public sphere at providing goods and services.

The County Federation of Labor argued against contracting-out based on practical experience, not abstract theory. Time and time again contractors have lined their pockets at public expense while providing inferior service. In the current case of county vehicle maintenance, the contractor, Holmes and Narver Services Inc., has given a whole new definition to the term "corporate arrogance." When faced with a backlog of unrepaired buses caused by their own incompetence, they responded by asking the county to purchase newer, easier to maintain vehicles.

The drive to contract-out public services has never really been based on economic decisions. Numerous independent studies have demolished the exaggerated claims of contractor cost savings. The decision to contract-out is and has always been a political decision--a right-wing loyalty to an outdated ideology and a mean-spirited attack on the public domain.

We need to preserve the noble ideas of public service and community in this country. The only virtue of this fiasco is that people will begin to realize that the work of community preservation will not be done by the likes of Holmes and Narver Inc. The public will come to know what those of us in organized labor learned long ago through confrontation with hard reality. It is easy to call forth the gods of profit to create a kinder and gentler nation. It is much more difficult to make them do our bidding.

WILLIAM R. ROBERTSON

Executive Secretary-Treasurer

Los Angeles County

Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

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