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Outsourcing upsets custodians


NORWALK — Members of the custodial, maintenance and security union within Norwalk Public Schools are outraged.

After administrators transferred eight custodial workers out of three schools in August — in order to save money by outsourcing the work — union leaders have called the action yet another step in a plan to slowly push union workers out of the district altogether.

“It’s moving toward the elimination of us,” said Charlie Wyatt, a custodial worker at Cranbury Elementary School and president of the union. “When the last guy retires there will be no more bargaining unit — and it’s basically by design. If they can make it to that point, then of course they will hire a bunch of people for minimum wage and try not to pay them benefits.”

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Schools with outsourced custodians:

Norwalk Pathways Academy

Columbus Magnet

Fox Run Elementary

Jefferson Science Magnet

Kendall

Rowayton

Silvermine

Tracey

Wolfpit


District officials said the outsourcing simply represents a focus on cutting non-educational costs wherever possible.

“I think it’s really a financially driven decision,” said Tom Hamilton, chief financial officer for Norwalk Public Schools. “Dollars spent on non-instructional purposes are dollars that, if we can do something more efficiently, can be repurposed directly into the classroom to support instruction.”

But union leaders allege that the effort is actually costing the district more money, wasting taxpayer dollars, decreasing the quality of custodial care in schools and leaving strangers in positions within the school community that have previously been filled by familiar faces.

Custodial, maintenance and security workers within the Norwalk Public schools have been a part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1042 union for decades.

The first sign of privatization began in 2014 when, operating under a section of the contract that allows the use of outside workers for tasks if they are both less expensive and more efficient, the school district hired a private company to perform landscaping tasks.

Over the following three school years, a total of nine schools had custodial work outsourced.

Under the union’s contract, custodial workers can only leave through attrition. So instead of terminating the workers at outsourced schools, the school district transferred them to other, still unionized schools.

The most recent wave of outsourcing came in August when nine positions (including one vacancy) were moved to allow the complete outsourcing of Norwalk Pathways Academy, Kendall Elementary and Wolfpit Elementary.

Outsourcing custodial work at the three schools is estimated to save the district $139,473, according to an analysis from Hamilton’s office.

School officials say the nine union positions within the three schools were able to be transferred into 11 similarly-paid vacancies that opened up through attrition in the 2016-17 school year.

However, union leaders say the workers were forced out of the schools, which some had been at for years, and into schools that didn’t have vacancy. That, they said, has lead to many problems.

First off, they say continuing to pay the same union workers in addition to paying for outsourced workers would logically cost more money.

“We have the staff to source three more schools,” said Ryan Loris, a shop steward for the union and custodian who was transferred from Wolfpit to Roton Middle School in August. “Anything spent on these three schools is a waste of money because you already have the staff to do it.”

Hamilton, in a memo addressed to Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons, called that a “fallacious argument” because it doesn’t take into account the vacancies created by the workers who left through attrition in the year prior.

A comparison of base salaries, according to figures released by Norwalk Public Schools, reveals a roughly $150,000 decrease in the amount the school district would pay out associated with replacing the 11 vacancies with the nine transferred positions.

Union leaders also say moving custodial workers from schools that were outsourced into schools that already have normal staffing means more people to perform the same amount of work. That, they call, “a waste of taxpayer money.”

“If you’re overspending in one building to save money in another, it doesn’t make sense,” Wyatt said.

They also say forcing more custodians into the same sized working quarters can lead to employee conflicts.

“If you have a high school that has 12 custodians and 12 is enough to take care of all of the work done in the building and then you turn around and add six more, now you’ve got guys stepping on each other,” Wyatt said.

He said the district wants the union workers to in-fight and retire early, and the transfers may be a strategy the district is using to get rid of the union workers.

Through the outsourcing, several head custodians, who make more money for their designation, were placed at schools that already had head custodians, leading to a waste of taxpayer money in unnecessarily paying for more than one head at one school.

Hamilton acknowledged the so-called “red circling” of head custodians, but said the overall financial implications of doing so, ranging from paying out $1,771 to $2,831 per head custodian, were “de minimus.”

Beyond finances, the union leaders said both quality and the cohesiveness of the community have been impacted.

Wyatt said he has heard reports from schools with outsourced workers where tiles have gotten loose and the workers put duct tape over the tiles and waxed over it.

Brenda Wilcox-Williams, spokeswoman for the school district, said to the best of her knowledge the outsourced workers have put in quality work.

“Our principals have been very pleased with the workers who have been in place,” Williams said.

Wyatt, a Norwalk High School grad who has been a custodian in Norwalk schools for nine years and at Cranbury Elementary for five, said bringing in new faces to fill the positions weakens the feel of community.

“Our parents are worried about strangers in the building …” he said. “They are worried about strangers being in the building with their kids.”

Williams, though, said all of the outsourced workers must go through the same comprehensive background checks as other custodial workers.

Part of the apparent strategy to outsource schools in waves, actually comes down to holding the outsourced workers more accountable, officials said.

Hamilton said it is “so that we can hold our contractor responsible for the cleanliness of the school and likewise for those still being covered by in-house staff.

“If you’ve got a school with half and half you’ve got a situation where people are pointing fingers.”

Williams said it really all comes down to the school district adhering to the contract.

“We have a commitment to do this only through attrition,” Williams said, “so that individuals do not lose their job.”

KSchultz@thehour.com; 203- 354-1049; @kevinedschultz

Article source: http://www.thehour.com/news/article/Outsourcing-upsets-custodians-10071716.php

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