UNION COUNTY, NJ — Last week the Kean University Board of Trustees approved an outside vender with a questionable track record to take over housekeeping and groundskeeping maintenance, effectively dissolving the jobs of 54 long term unionized employees.
GCA Services, the company selected by the Kean administration and approved by the board of trustees March 2, will take over for a contracted one-year term at the cost of $1.6 million.
The Cleveland, Ohio, company with more than 30,000 employees, offers nationwide custodial services to corporate clients in K-12 schools, higher education, manufacturing, corporate office buildings, defense and other sectors.
According to a statement from Kean spokesperson Susan Kayne, the move to outsource these particular university services will save the university $3.45 million a year, adding that an additional $500,000 in operational costs will also be saved.
Kayne said the reasoning behind the university going with an outside custodial service had everything to do with increasing economy and efficiency, following a year-long review of these services by an outside assessment firm.
“This is part of the university’s continuing effort to remain New Jersey’s most affordable, comprehensive university,” the statement said, pointing out that contracting with GCA culminated a five-year process that included “already successful outsourcing of housekeeping and grounds services on two of Kean’s campuses, multi-year evaluations, continued assessment and process improvement planning.”
As a result, 54 full-time housekeeping, custodial and maintenance positions at the university will be eliminated and the affected employees given a 45-day notice of their impending loss of employment.
Kean, however, did require GCA interview every one of the affected employees for new positions within the company and pay “prevailing wage and benefits” to any former university employees hired. There was, though, no guarantee or requirement by Kean that GCA rehire any of the 54 employees they will be letting go.
The move by Kean to go to an outside custodial company received poor marks from the unionized employees losing their jobs, as well as tenured and adjunct faculty.
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 195, who represent the affected employees, held a rally March 2 at the Green Lane entrance to the university, to protest the move. This took place immediately before a scheduled board of trustees meeting, where the board approved the outsourcing contract.
According to Steve Pinto, a maintenance worker who has been an employee for 35 years, contracting with an outside company will devastate workers, including him.
“Our jobs will be filled by part-time, minimum wage workers who have no ties to the campus,” he said, adding that the decision “makes no sense.”
Pinto told LocalSource last week that when his local union expressed concern about these services being outsourced, they were told to “present a proposal.” This, he said, was frustrating because their hands were tied.
“We can’t negotiate for anything less than we are getting because it’s set by the state,” Pinto said, adding that none of the employees involved were making huge salaries. In fact, he said, the top pay for a janitor at Kean is about $40,000.
“Our union workers are not making big money,” he said, concerned that an outside contractor will not be able to provide the same care unionized workers have for decades.
In the resolution approved by the board, the university noted that they did try to work with the unionized workers involved prior to outsourcing these services.
“The university repeatedly solicited participation in this process from the leadership of collective negotiation units and provided this leadership with all the research, documents and proposals related to its efforts,” the resolution indicated, noting that since 2010 numerous meetings were held in order to reduce services and keep costs down for students.
The resolution also noted each of the 54 displaced workers would receive “up to $2,000” in workforce retraining support to acquire new skills.
Despite this, and the fact the board already approved a one-year contract with GCA to the tune of $1.6 million, Pinto said he had grave concerns about this particular company’s professional track record.
Information obtained by LocalSource showed GCA’s history in several states was less than stellar. In fact, GCA placed two custodians with drug and sex offense criminal records in schools, among many other incidents.
One of the custodian’s in Tennessee was charged with raping a 16-year-old student in a closet on school property during school hours. It was later discovered the employee had a criminal record involving aggravated battery, assault and theft of property.
Another in Texas, also a GCA employee, was a registered sex offender, and was found in a school locker room dead, with a bag over his head. In 2010, when this particular incident occurred, a GCA official felt the matter was not that important because of the size of the company compared to the number of incidents that have occurred.
“You have to understand, we hire a lot of people. I think a couple of incidents with more than 20,000 employees is a pretty good batting record,” the unnamed official said, according to a June 6, 2010 article by the Associated Press.
Another GCA services custodian was found guilty of stealing $900 from a daycare center in Florida where he was hired to clean after hours, according to a Nov. 26, 2008 article in the St. Petersburg Times.
In Rockford, Illinois, school district teachers, principals, parents and other staff were not happy with GCA services in general, complaining that trash was not removed from classrooms, carpets not cleaned and floors not swept.
This same report also indicated GCA employees improperly mixed cleaning chemicals which resulted in student and teacher health issues. There were also allegations of theft at the schools, with custodians suspected as the culprits, according to a June 19, 2008 article in the Florida Daily News.
Another GCA employee was working for four months in a Tennessee middle school before it was discovered she was a fugitive from Texas who violated probation on a felony drug conviction. A GCA official said the company conducted two background checks, including a fingerprint check, before hiring the woman, according to a Jan. 16, 2011 article by the Associated Press.
When Oregon State University reduced its contract with GCA, the company protected its profit margin by laying off nearly one-third of its workforce of 90 custodians. When custodians said they could not handle the required workload, students and staff members began taking on cleaning duties that previously were handled by custodians. GCA said they believed the workload was “manageable,” according to a Feb. 21, 2010 article by the Associated Press.
When it comes to job standards and labor record, GCA also has a poor record, employing undocumented workers and paying inadequate wages and benefits, according to newspaper accounts and other records obtained by LocalSource.
For example, GCA has been cited by OSHA for ten workplace safety violations since 2006, incurring $10,400 in fines.
These citations include three serious violations, including firing four workers and intimidating workers when they tried to unionize. These custodians earned $7.25 to $9 per hour and had no health insurance or sick leave. GCA agreed in federal court to settle charges by the National Labor Relations Board, according to an Oct. 11, 2011 article in the Arizona Republic.
GCA was also fined $5,940 by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in 2010 for employing illegal workers, according a July 17, 2010 article in the Houston Chronicle.
And the charges do not stop there.
A Columbia, Missouri school board rejected a proposal to privatize high school custodians with GCA by a 6 to 1 vote after members expressed concern about the company’s low pay and their lack of benefits. GCA proposed cutting custodian pay by 10 percent, in addition to cutting sick days and reducing staff, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported on Nov. 13, 2012.
In New Haven, Connecticut, a proposed GCA contract would have plunged school custodians into the poverty level, according to research conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. These custodians would have had their pay cut to $12.50 per hour from an average of $20 per hour previously, lose full-time jobs and eligibility for health care benefits.
According to the report, GCA knew the custodians would not be able to work for these wages so they planned to hold a recruitment event for new workers, according to a March 14, 2011 article in the New Haven Register.
GCA’s bids to schools have also come under fire, with those involving school districts appearing low initially, but having hidden costs buried in the fine print. For example, when GCA put in a bid for a Knox County, Tennessee school district, it included an inflation adjustment after the first year and adjustments if tax rates or minimum wage rates increase and an “escalator” clause if GCA’s employees unionize.
Kean faculty, including the heads of both tenured and adjunct unions, reacted strongly to the move by the university to outsource this department.
“Faculty and staff at Kean University are appalled that the university is laying off our dedicated but low-paid groundskeepers and housekeeping staff,” said James Castiglione, president of the Kean Federation of Teachers.
“These people have been committed employees of the university, some for decades. Why isn’t Kean University committed to them? Many of these employees live in the local neighborhoods, so the university is undermining the economic stability of the very communities it is supposed to be supporting,” the KFT president said, adding “surely the effect of losing a job on the families of many of these workers will be devastating.”
Castiglione said faculty have come to know and trust these employees who have dedicated years of service to Kean and its students and there is deep concern about what will happen when the university uses an outside company for these services.
“Faculty are concerned that outside contractors, with no connection to the university or its students, will not provide the same level of service,” the KFT president explained, urging the board of trustees to reverse its decision “for their sake and the sake of the broader university community.”
Kathleen Henderson, president of the more than 1,000 adjunct professors at Kean, was not surprised by the latest turn of events.
“Under the guise of saving $3.45 million annually by outsourcing housekeeping services and maintenance for all buildings, add another $500,000 annually on operation costs by outsourcing grounds maintenance, Local 195 was officially dissolved at the board of trustees meeting,” said Henderson, adding “the winner in all this is GCA Services, an ‘about us’ employer to some 37,000 exploited employees in 46 states, the district of Columbia and Puerto Rico, whose benefits package, while looking good, only goes to a select few.”
“Not a month goes by when Kean is not in the news for something, most often putting Kean in a bad light,” she said, adding “when will someone dare get up and shout, we have had enough.”
Jesus Diaz, an assistant professor of philosophy, had his own take on what transpired.
“If the alleged savings were invested in Kean’s educational mission, I would regret seeing old friends go butadmit that the efficient use of resources comes first. But the savings will go to things unrelated to education – more buildings, more patronage, more lawyers, more $200,000 tables, more programs that serve China’s needs, not New Jersey’s,” said Diaz, a professor at the university since 1992.