Tuesday, March 10, 1998

Pact to automate city refuse collection

INSTEAD of privatizing city-county services, Jeremy Harris is expanding the jurisdiction of city civil-service workers. That is the price the city is paying to gain the approval of the United Public Workers union for extension of automated refuse pickup to 80 percent of Oahu homes in the next three years.

Under the agreement, the city will expand refuse service to townhouse developments, which have private refuse collection. The city will also take over staffing of rural refuse depositories previously operated by private companies under contract with the city. This expansion will make it possible for automation to proceed with no layoffs of refuse workers although only one person will be needed per truck in place of a crew of three.

This year alone, the mayor says, eight automated routes will be added for a saving of $1.1 million. Automated service began in 1994. All reductions in refuse division personnel since then have been made through attrition - certainly the least painful way for the employees affected.

However, the result is a loss of business and jobs in the private sector as the city takes over the refuse service for townhouses and refuse depositories. These people are being sacrificed for the sake of the city agreement with the UPW.

Harris has to be pleased because the pact could bring him union support for his next election campaign - whether for re-election as mayor or for governor. The general public might feel that this deal is worth making to avoid a refuse strike.

The question is whether the city will retain the expanded service permanently and hire more civil service workers to handle it after the refuse division staff has been whittled down through attrition. That would be a step backward in privatization, giving Honolulu more government, not less.


More Serbian unrest

WHILE civil strife has subsided in Croatia and Bosnia, ethnic violence has begun to flare up in another area of the former Yugoslavia. In the southern Serbian region of Kosovo, the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, has authorized a bloody crackdown on demonstrations for an end to the police state that has existed in recent years. International pressure is needed once again to restrain Milosevic.

Before Yugoslavia began falling apart in 1989, Kosovo was an autonomous province in the Yugoslav republic of Serbia. Of the six Yugoslav republics, only Serbia and the much weaker Montenegro remain in the federation, and Milosevic has tightened Serbia's grip on Kosovo to prevent further disintegration. The sovereignty movement is strong in the largely Muslim region, where 90 percent of the residents are ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo's Albanians used nonviolent means in their unsuccessful attempt to assert their rights until the recent formation of a small Kosovo Liberation Army. Milosevic used the emergence of the guerrilla activity, including bombings and killings, as a reason for authorizing police sweeps through Kosovo in the past two weeks.

However, the casualties caused by the Serbian police have been civilian families, not guerrilla fighters.

An international conference comprising the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia has agreed on an arms embargo and other measures against Yugoslavia until peace is restored. The conferees also called on Milosevic and ethnic Albanians to enter into negotiations without conditions. A settlement that would return Kosovo to its previous autonomy within Serbia may be a solution.

The former Yugoslavia was an ethnic stew held together for decades by the charisma of Tito, so the current unrest is not surprising. The international community can play an important role short of armed intervention to bring peace to the region. Milosevic has shown that he will yield to that kind of pressure.


Miss Saigon or symphony?

THE city auditoriums director ought to back off from the plan to kick the Honolulu Symphony out of the Blaisdell Concert Hall for three months next year to make room for the musical "Miss Saigon." A compromise that will deal with the symphony's legitimate concerns is needed. The auditoriums director, Alvin Au, says the city and the theatrical producers are close to an agreement to bring the musical here for eight to 12 weeks, starting in late September 1999.

Symphony officials are protesting. The executive director, Michael Tiknis, says the decision "deeply imperils the symphony's existence because we have no other adequate place to perform." The period in question is not just any three months on the calendar. It's the opening of the season for the symphony - vitally important to the orchestra's financial health.

This is an organization that was virtually brought back from the dead after a contract dispute led to a strike and the formation of a rival group to manage the orchestra. That effort was a fiasco but the symphony society regrouped and made a new agreement with the musicians. Now that the symphony is making progress in rebuilding its finances, it would be devastating to take another blow like losing the first three months of the season.

The Blaisdell Concert Hall has been the symphony's home since it was built. The symphony is by far its most frequent user. The orchestra is the core of Honolulu's classical musical activities, a cultural treasure.

It is inconceivable that the city would make a decision that would imperil the symphony's survival. Symphony officials say they have no objection to bringing "Miss Saigon" to Honolulu, but that it must be done in a way that does not inflict so much damage on the orchestra. They say they are willing to negotiate a compromise. The city should take them up on that offer and not proceed with this destructive plan.

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