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University finalizes deal to outsource custodians

Published: Thursday, February 16, 2012

Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 23:02

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Nick Rollins

Supporters for the custodians bow their heads while Pastor Gene Skipworth, of United Church of Cookeville, said a prayer.

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Melissa Edwards

Kimberly Ainsworth and Nicole Blurton bow their heads in prayer during a prayer vigil held on Feb. 13 for custodians who are being outsourced.

Tech signed a contract with SSC Service Solutions Feb. 10, outsourcing its custodial services in an attempt to cut spending.

 "There was an administrative committee that reviewed proposals and evaluated all of the vendors, and the university accepted the contract," Karen Lykins, Communications and Marketing associate vice president, said.

According to Lykins, the Tennessee Board of Regents also approved the buyout and reduction-in-force packages offered to the custodians.

Service Solutions will take over all custodial responsibilities May 1, and custodians can take a severance package from Tech.

Lykins said that the custodians can choose from three different packages depending on how long they have worked at Tech.

"If you have 15 or more years with the University as of April 30, you can remain a Tech employee or you can take the voluntary buyout package," Lykins said.

The other two packages are reduction-in-force packages. These are for custodians who have worked up to five years, and for those who have worked from five to 10 years.

They will not remain as Tech employees, but will have packages "appropriate" to them, according to Lykins.

"It will affect, over all, 60 custodians," Lykins said. "There are 15 employees with 15 or more years of experience."

Tech's budget has a $2.4 million deficit, leaving the University to look for ways to cut costs.

"This year we lost about $939,000 of projected tuition revenue," Lykins said. "We dropped in graduate enrollment programs, so that was money that we expected but we didn't get."

Also contributing to the deficit is $825,900 of permanent reduction, as well as $623,000 of non-recurring transition funds. The transition funds were provided by the state for the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010.

"We're not paid for enrolling as many students as we can anymore; we are paid for however many students we graduate and retain," Lykins said. "They gave us a little cushion money to transition. We had that this year, but we won't next year; the transition goes away."

Since the contract is signed, the custodians will have 45 days to consider the offered packages, and will also have a chance to work for Service Solutions once the company takes over.

"Unless I am just forced into working for this outside company, I have no desire to," Terri Stidham, custodian at Johnson Hall, said. "I feel very betrayed by the University, and I feel certain that they could have found another alternative.

"I don't want to hear it called the Tech family anymore; I don't see how you can put that type of burden on a member of your so-called family."

Stidham said she has worked at the University since 1983 and that she was "really hurt to see the turn it has taken."

"They have found their cost savings on the backs of the lowest-paid people on campus," Stidham said.

The contract approval comes less than six months prior to the retirement of President Bob Bell, who, along with the TBR, made the final decision to outsource custodial services.

Stidham said, "How could this not reflect against [Bell]? It happened under his watch. It's going to be a part of his legacy as far as I'm concerned. He left us packing."

The United Campus Workers organization held a prayer vigil Feb. 13 at Tech, which brought a crowd of over 80 people.

Faith leaders within the community came together to pray for the custodians, with custodians, students and faculty in the crowd also given the opportunity to speak.

Curriculum and Instruction professor, Suellen Alfred, said that she loves having Renee, the custodian in Bartoo Hall.

"She is a member of our family and I want to keep her," said Alfred.

Corinne Johnson, Minority Affairs secretary, also said, "Our custodians are a part of the Tech family and a part of our family. I want to keep each and every one of them."

Hector Black, a member of Cookeville's Quaker community, said, "I felt that when we put profit before people, we were making a major mistake. It's a danger to run an institution like Tech, who is dedicated to education, but is cutting corners.

"I feel as though corporations are built for profit, Tech and other institutions are here to teach, and by doing this Tech is not teaching justice."

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