April 19, 2011

Housekeeping staffers may be laid off

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Following an e-mail sent to students in housing, announcing shifts in facilities staffing, students have mobilized to prevent University housekeepers from losing their jobs.

According to University Spokesman Steve Kloehn, current Housekeeping staff were told in a meeting on April 7 that their department will be merged with Facilities Services beginning on July 1 and that their employment status may be in danger.

The decision came out of the University’s attempts to reexamine its business models, according to Kloehn. “Facilities Services already does [the work of Housekeeping Services] in most buildings on campus,” Kloehn said. “The conclusion was that we could [help maintain the residence halls] better if we could use the expertise of Facilities.”

Because Facilities Services outsources most of its staff, most or all of the current housekeeping staff are in danger of losing their jobs, according to Kloehn. Desk clerks will remain under the jurisdiction of Housing and building engineers will be moved directly into Facilities Services.

Student response to the news has been swift. The RSO Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), met last night to discuss the issue and hopes to designate an upcoming “week of action,” including a rally today outside of the Administration Building.

“SOUL is pretty horrified by how quickly this is being pushed through, this is the most aggressive labor violation I’ve seen at the University,” said second-year and SOUL member Lexie Grove. “They’re acting like it’s a done deal already.”

But according to Kloehn, while the decision to move housekeeping and maintenance functions to Facilities has been finalized, the contract to outsource those functions with a third-party company has not yet been awarded. The University is also still in talks with the union that represents the current housekeepers.

In order to explain the transitions in the University community, Kloehn said, he wants to help facilitate “as many face-to-face meetings on this as possible.”

“One of the goals of this process is to be fair and respectful to the employees,” Kloehn said. “We hope the change will be largely invisible to the residents of the houses,” he added.

But Grove is adamant that students across campus will be angered by the change. “There’s a definite network of support for these workers,” she said.

One node in that network is the new website and its affiliated Facebook page, both of which were created shortly after workers learned of the decision by third-years Paul Dueck and Charles Cary, who both have a close relationship with housekeeping staff.