Community rallies for custodians

Concerns for Tech’s custodial staff have reappeared this semester as custodians and supporters protest the possibility of outsourcing.Due to continuing decreases in funding for state universities, Tech administration is looking at options to reduce costs.

“The utility costs are 100s of 1,000s of dollars higher each year,” President Bob Bell said. “We’ve been looking for a number of years for ways to do things effectively and in a real cost-contained environment.

“Custodial services is certainly not the first thing we’ve looked at. We’ve done a number of things to try to bring the budget under control.”

A committee has been asked to investigate cost savings associated with custodial work. One of the options the group is looking at is outsourcing custodians.

“My main concern is that the committee’s charge will not be taken seriously,” said Jon Jonakin, associate professor of economics, finance and marketing. “That charge is to look at outsourcing but also at alternatives to outsourcing.”

Yesterday, TTU United Campus Workers facilitated a rally outside of Derryberry Hall. The demonstration was to show support for the current Tech custodians.

“We want to show that those at Tech and in the greater Cookeville community are against outsourcing and laying off loyal campus employees,” said Karly Safar of United Campus Workers. “A public demonstration is the only way to do that.”

Safar’s involvement with Tech custodians’ job security also includes protesting last semester’s proposed switch to third shift.

“[Some Tech faculty and staff members] suspect that the switch was a prelude to outsourcing,” Jonakin said. “By moving the custodians to the night shift, it was believed many would quit, and it would then be easier to outsource to a private company.”

Regarding the proposed shift switch, Bell said, “When we began this discussion, we wanted to look at whether or not we could keep custodial services here on campus and do it in a different way that would save money.

“The idea was that it is a more efficient cleaning if you have the building to yourself. It created enough anxiety that we pulled back without completing that study.”

Rally supporters also voiced concerns about potential safety issues involved with outsourced workers.

TTU United Campus Workers fliers point out security hazard examples including outsourcing companies hiring convicted felons to work in Putnam County Schools.

“One of the requirements in the requests for proposal [for outsourcing companies to work with Tech] would be that they do background checks on everyone,” Bell said. “If we were to go to outsourcing, the background checks would be much more thorough than they are now with our current employees.”

The rally organizers circulated a petition to protest outsourcing Tech custodians and received more than 1,000 signatures from community groups, as well as people on campus.

The TTU United Campus Workers and rally organizers continue to encourage student support for Tech custodians.

“I do not know if we’ll end up [outsourcing custodians] or not,” Bell said. “It’s very early in this study so we’ll have to see which direction it goes.

“We’ve got good folks working here on campus, and I understand their concerns. I wish the state budgets were better than they are, and I wish we weren’t having to do this [study], but the reality is we are.