School custodians say outsourcing 'A Race to the Bottom'

Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 11:45pm

Hundreds of custodians, some forced to peek through an open door because of limited space, jammed a public hearing last night on the school district’s proposed budget, urging the school board to reconsider outsourcing their positions.

Much of the crowd assembled outside an hour before, staging a rally — complete with megaphones, drums and chants — with help from the local Service Employees International Union, which represents custodians who work at Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Supporters of the protest wore stickers that read: “Privatization: A Race to the Bottom.”

At issue is Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposed $633.3 million budget, which seeks to ease the district’s projected $35 million shortfall by outsourcing custodial work, currently carried out by more than 600 Metro school employees, to a private company. The move would save an estimated $5 million.

“It’s not right that they’re taking our jobs and sourcing them out,” said Lucille Moore, head custodian at Isaiah T. Creswell Middle School. “It’s not fair that we’ll have to work for $7 to $8 an hour for an outside company.”

Joining the ranks of disgruntled custodians last night were Council members Eric Crafton, Michael Craddock and Jamie Hollin, who each took the podium to decry the outsourcing proposal.

Register has maintained the budget protects the jobs of classroom teachers, which allows the district to avoid firing teachers like it did last year.

Though the custodial positions would technically be eliminated, Register has stressed that currently employed custodians would have first dibs on the jobs provided by a contracted outfit. Moreover, he’s said hiring an outsourced company would allow a greater number of custodians, groundskeepers and other support staff to work inside the schools.

Despite the assurance, some custodians said they’re worried about landing their same job again, with others doubting they would receive health benefits or retirement pensions under a new company.

Longtime custodians, meanwhile, cited the district’s short-lived hiring of custodial contractors at a handful of Metro schools in 1994, a move outsourcing opponents said was pulled because workers stole property and schools weren’t kept clean.

The school board is expected to vote on the budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year at a March 23 board meeting.

Other cuts in the proposed budget include slashing 24 positions within the district’s central office and reducing the number of hours for Metro school bus drivers, a move that has received equal scrutiny.

4 Comments on this post:

By: localboy on 3/12/10 at 9:31

The custodians are right to worry, the only way for an outside firm to make money would be to bid less than what the custodians currently cost the system...so either their wages and benefits get cut, or they are replaced by entry level workers.
"Longtime custodians, meanwhile, cited the district’s short-lived hiring of custodial contractors at a handful of Metro schools in 1994, a move outsourcing opponents said was pulled because workers stole property and schools weren’t kept clean." That's a poor example - '94 was half-ass done by the administration. Most of the rest of town uses contract cleaning crews, so if feet are held to the fire the loss of property will be similar to current but the schools will probably not be as clean - contract labor will have not have the same ownership stake in a school as an on-staff custodian would.

By: pswindle on 3/12/10 at 3:59

We need to have a Nashville born school director to take care of Nashville. They will replace the custodians with workers that cannot speak English, and that creats one problem after another. Leave the bus drivers and custodians alone. Pick on someone more your size.

By: DDG on 3/13/10 at 8:04

Great, next thing you know, our kids are coming down with menengitis. No thanks, cut costs somewhere else.

By: 742180 on 3/15/10 at 9:06

Personally I don't have a problem with it. Yes, it will displace a lot of entrenched workers. Workers who take their positions for granted and perform at a snails pace. The same is true with the entire MNEA, they are essentially a self protection agency, resisting anything that resembles change and progressiveness.
As to outsourcing other school jobs, ie cafeteria workers, I, once again, don't have a problem with it. I would even like to see the outsourcing of Teachers, and the dismanteling of the MNEA bureacracy.
I know many of you will scream at this post, but I would suggest that you read in "todays edition" of this very newspaper the article describing how Private Education is succeding and expanding.
How do you rationalize, (expain away), that?