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Students petition Bell to reconsider outsourcing

Two Tech students presented petitions opposing custodial outsourcing with more than 1,500 signatures to President Bob Bell Tuesday.

Shayne Bilbrey, secondary education major, and Paige Sawyers, sociology major, delivered the petitions, which had been signed by Tech students, staff and faculty as well as members of the Cookeville community.

“[Bell] understands our concerns,” Bilbrey said.  “He personally said, ‘I hate to make a decision like this.  This would be a terrible decision regardless.’ He has optimism that there could be a happy outcome with not outsourcing the custodial positions.”

Bell said that he has to make a number of cuts from the budget and deliver this to Governor Haslam by March 1.  

At this point, the issue is in the hands of the budget committee.  If Facilities and Business Services can cut a sufficient amount from its budget, the custodial positions may not have to be outsourced, according to Bilbrey.

The original request for proposal for custodial outsourcing stated that the Intent to Award letter was scheduled to be delivered to the chosen company Nov. 16, but this date has been pushed back at least a few weeks because of delays in other steps of the bid-receiving/ awarding process.

The first of next year, the process will enter competitive bidding, where each prospective company will have the opportunity to enter a proposed bid amount and the University will have the choice to accept the lowest bid.  If the Office of Facilities and Business Services can match or surpass that bid amount by cutting its budget without cutting personnel, the University may not have to outsource its custodial services. If budget cuts cannot make up the difference between the current cost and the lowest bid, the University will most likely choose to outsource the service.

Sawyers said that her biggest concern was healthcare coverage for the employees of private custodial companies compared to coverage currently offered to Tech’s state-employed custodians.

“I asked if companies generally would offer healthcare and he said ‘yes, but not like Tennessee Tech for the state would offer,'” Sawyers said.  “I’ve had that healthcare before, I’m pretty sure.  It sucks.”

Tech students, faculty, custodians and members of the United Campus Workers gathered on the steps of Derryberry Hall Tuesday evening for a candlelight vigil in acknowledgement of those whose livelihoods might be threatened by the privatization of custodial services.

Vigil attendees shared a common concern for the loss of the feeling of safety on campus if custodial services are outsourced.  This includes the trust faculty have for custodians who enter their offices in the evenings and the trust the University places in those custodians who work around students.

Andy Smith, instructor of English and UCW member, said that in the post-Virginia Tech and now post-Penn State campus environment, “security and health and safety and integrity are huge issues” especially with people who are working within the residence halls.

“I think today, if not a victory, it’s certainly a moment of acknowledging that the work we’ve been doing was worthwhile,” Smith said.

The outsourcing process has been delayed, but the UCW is currently unsure how long the delay will last.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods, but I think we should feel that our presence and our voices have made a huge impact in this community and on this campus around this issue.”

Video footage of the candlelight vigil can be found at