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Custodians future in hands of TBR, President Bell

By Nick Rollins
On February 2, 2012

Despite a year of petitions and rallies, Tech has taken the next step in outsourcing its custodians at the beginning of this semester.

"The proposed vendor, Service Solutions, would provide the cleaning services for $1.1 million dollars less than what the University is spending now," David Larimore, Custodial Services Ad Hoc Committee chairman, said.

Even though SSC Service Solutions was selected, they must first be approved by President Bob Bell and the Tennessee Board of Regents. If they are approved, they will take over all duties that the current custodians perform now.

Service Solutions, of Knoxville, falls under Compass Group North America, which is also the parent company of Chartwells, who Tech contracted for food services.

According to Larimore, Tech's budget is facing problems. In the next budget for the University, expenses exceed revenue by $2.4 million. Until now, this deficit has been covered by stimulus money, as well as money that the University receives from the state.

"Now that all goes away, leaving the University to come up with a solution to the $2.4 million shortfall," Larimore said.

However, in the past, Tech attempted to save money as an effort to keep the custodians on payroll. Facilities and Business Services announced that they reassigned the custodians to work third shift Oct. 29, 2010. This change eventually fell through because of its unpopularity.

"The original thought was ‘That's when everyone else cleans,' such as at a bank, or doctors office," Larimore said. "The faculty senate, the custodians and the faculty were all upset about that change."

According to Larimore, Bell asked the TBR to increase student fees in order to not be forced to outsource the custodians. However, the Board of Regents denied the proposal.

"The response was, the other institutions had outsourced custodial services already, and that they would not grant our request since the other institutions had already done that," Larimore said.

The Custodial Services Ad Hoc Committee, appointed by Bell, was established to see if custodial outsourcing is necessary, review budget documents for analysis and recommend the best method of providing custodial services to the campus.

Suellen Alfred, curriculum and instruction professor, believes that outsourcing is not the solution to the budget problem.

"The whole TTU culture in the past has put great value on the fact that we are all a family," Alfred said. "You don't outsource family."

Before a decision is made, the committee will continue to search for alternatives to outsourcing.

"The faculty senate, in its last meeting, proposed that the committee explore alternatives to outsourcing before recommending outsourcing to the president," Larimore said.

According to Larimore, the committee has not identified a way that custodial services can be organized or restructured to be competitive with the Service Solutions bid, nor have they been able to identify a feasible alternative to outsourcing.

"I don't have any intentions in upsetting and rearranging people's lives, and there are concerns about their future," Larimore said. "The committee, I believe, is trying to take all of those things into account. I do believe, on part of the senate, that somewhere there is something that could be sacrificed without any pain so that outsourcing custodial services would not have to be considered."

If Service Solutions is approved, the custodians will be allowed to hire on with them and take a severance package from Tech. By doing this, they will lose their Tech benefits, which Alfred believes are greater than what Service Solutions will offer.

"What we've done is shifted the cost burden from Tech onto the city of Cookeville and Putnam County," Alfred said. "That means people are going to wind up in the emergency room, and who pays for that? Our taxes do. And we could see them in public housing, and we could see them on food stamps. Who pays for that? We do."

In the past, the United Campus Workers have protested and picketed as an effort to bring awareness to, as well as end the outsourcing effort.

Cassie Watters, organizer for UCW, said the organization plans to host a prayer vigil Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. at Main Quad in response to the letter of intent. According to Watters, their main focus is to pray for the custodians, and to pray that the right decision is made.

"With the way our economy is now, it's going to be tough for these people to get a job," Alfred said. "They are going to be receiving benefits, not from Tech, but from tax payers." 


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