Despite months of dissension, discussion and demonstration, Tech administrators have not been able to resolve the custodial outsourcing issue.
The problems surrounding this subject are both economic and emotional. Tech spends approximately 1.5 percent more of its budget in the Operations and Maintenance of Plant category when compared to the Tennessee Board of Regents average.
This translates to almost 1.7 million dollars more spending per year in this category than the TBR average.
However, almost half of this spending is in operating expenses which do not currently include custodial salaries or benefits and the spending amount does not reflect the fact that some TBR institutions categorize their expenses differently.
“If we’re looking for ways to save money for custodial benefits, to me it looks like the greater savings are in other places,” Thomas Timmerman, professor of business management said.
The Tech budget breakdown shows that Tech overspends in a number of areas when compared to other TBR institutions, including an overspending of approximately $865,000 in the student services category.
Tech also holds its custodians to a high standard in keeping facilities clean and attractive, a luxury that may not accompany outsourcing this service.
These standards are measured by the Association for Physical Plant Administrators in levels ranging from “Unkempt Neglect” to “Orderly.”
“The faculty want clean offices and spotless bathrooms,” Jeff Roberts, president of the TTU Faculty Senate said. “The APPA levels are as high as they can be and by having higher standards, we incur higher charges.
Some institutions have lower standards and that’s how they save money.”
Outsourcing custodial services carries with it the risk that these standards may fall.
Typically, outsourced custodians will earn lower wages and have fewer benefits than those employed by the University.
This could lead to lower standards of cleanliness and less pride in the job.
“If we’re going to get good custodial services, I don’t think we’re going to get it from someone making minimum wage and no benefits,” Roberts said.
As difficult as it may be to comb through the economic benefits and costs of outsourcing, there is far more passion and unrelenting argument catering to the emotions of those involved.
“In my life here [at Tech], I have never been involved in anything so contentious,” Dave Larimore, professor of curriculum and instruction said.
“One of my concerns is with the morale of the current custodians,” Suellen Alfred, associate professor of curriculum and instruction said. “I think they’ve been treated cheaply and they believe that the administration does not respect them, does not understand them, and really does not care. That bothers me a great deal.”
Some argue that fully outsourcing custodial services may be the next logical step in the future operation of the university.
“We’ve already outsourced to a large degree,” Roberts said. “One-third of our custodial service is provided this way and I think we can all say that outsourcing our food service has been greatly beneficial.”
While some may agree with this statement, others do not feel that the expansion of Tech’s outsourcing is so objective.
“The outsourcing of custodians is different from the outsourcing of the bookstore or food services,” Alfred said. “These people are in our offices. We need to trust them and know who they are.
Everyone wants to say that we are the Tech family. If we’re going to call ourselves family, we need to act like one.”
Ambiguous numerical information and deep set emotions have created a problem that is not a simple one to solve, explaining why this concern is still on the table months after its introduction.
The TTU Faculty Senate is scheduled to meet, with President Bell in attendance, at the end of this month to continue talks and work toward resolution of this issue.