In an attempt to reduce maintenance costs, Texas State began outsourcing custodial positions in 2012. Now, three faculty and staff coalitions have rallied to keep in-house custodians.
In 2012, a university committee voted to add more custodial and maintenance staff. With growing overhead, the committee chose to outsource the jobs to save on costs. Since 2013, the university has not hired any custodial staff, according to Director of Facilities Management Gordon Green.
As an alternative, Tennessee-based Southeast Service Corporation signed a contract in 2015 with Texas State to perform custodial services. Priced at $2.4 million a year, the contract is set to last until Jan. 10, 2020.
“What we elected to do is outsource custodial because its cheaper to outsource than to outsource building maintenance,” Green said. “The decision was (made because) we needed to take care of our people. We would do it as (custodians) normally left the university for whatever reason.”
In a Sept. 13 letter to the editor published in The University Star, the Coalition of Black Faculty and Staff, ALLIANCE and the Hispanic Policy Network stated the custodial workers in academic and research buildings could be displaced and replaced by contracted custodial workers by 2020. In the letter, the three organizations denounced the administration’s alleged plan to transition to contracted custodial workers.
Eric Algoe, vice president of Finance and Support Services, said there is no current plan to phase the custodial out by 2020. Instead, the university intends to replace positions with outsourced employee as they open up. Algoe said there may come a time when the university will no longer have an in-house custodial staff.
According to Green, there were about 135 employees in the Custodial Facilities Operations at the start of the outsourcing. As of Sept. 24, there are 40 full-time and two part-time employees in the department.
Texas State’s fiscal 2019 budget allocated $1.5 million toward custodial operations and staff salaries, and $2.8 million for custodial contracts, totaling at $4.3 million. The custodial contract is $400,000 higher than the contract amount signed with SSC in the case of what Algoe described as unknown events.
Prior to the beginning of the outsourcing, in the fiscal 2011 budget, the university allocated around $3 million for custodial services operations and staff salaries, which, when adjusted for inflation, totals around $3.5 million.
Sherri Benn, co-chair of the Coalition of Black Faculty and Staff, and the Facilities and Custodial Staff Issues Committee, said custodial staff members are afraid to speak out, which led to the involvement of CBFS, ALLIANCE and HPN.
According to Gordon, 75 percent of custodial workers are Hispanic, 15 percent are white and 10 percent are African-American.
“(The custodial staff’s) primary concern is keeping their jobs,” Benn said. “They have been hearing conflicting information about how the contract is going to work. These people are an important part of the community. They are the people with the least agency, the lowest pay and they tend to be minorities.”
Orlando Hinojosa, secretary for Hispanic Policy Network, said the organizations are advocating for better working conditions for custodial workers and that faculty “have to stand alongside our custodians.”
“Not only are (custodians) overworked, but their pay is minimal,” Hinojosa said. “So I just think that for a institution like Texas State, who now embraces the label of being a Hispanic-serving institution, if they truly care about our Latinx students and the greater community at large, that this should be an issue that they take into consideration and put people and not profits at the forefront of the decision making.”
Currently, the university is in the process of outsourcing the McCoy Hall custodial staff, which is expected to begin by December 2018.
“We use to have what was called the swing shift, which use to go from late afternoon until about 11 at night,” Gordon said. “Because of a lack of staff, we did away with that shift, and that’s kinda left McCoy in a lurch because they have a large graduate degree program with classes in the evening. What we’re going to do is take the people who work in that building and put them in other buildings on campus and then outsource (the building) to our custodial contractors.”
Algoe, who started as Vice President of the department after the outsourcing had already started, said if he had been part of the decision to outsource, he would have taken in account working conditions, the company’s efficiency and pricing, and the quality of work from SSC’s employees.
“We actually have a whole system set up for quality control and assessment over the cleaning of campus and we know the areas of campus that are cleaned by our in-house custodial staff versus the SSC staff,” Algoe said. “Objectively, the cleaning criteria is graded on a scale that is put out by an organization called APPA. SSC is marginally better than our in-house staff. What also makes that relevant though is when you look at the amount of square feet that each SSC custodian is cleaning compared to the amount of square feet each of our in-house custodians are cleaning, they are actually cleaning significantly more and still doing a little bit better.”
Following initial calls by The University Star inquiring about information contained in the letter received Sept. 13, a press release was published by the Office of Media Relations online on Sept. 18, praising the work of custodial members and the value of their contribution to the university community. The press release was not sent to The University Star and cannot be seen on the official news website of the university.
The University Star will continue to update this story as more information become available.