In Kentucky’s current state of budget-strangling and uncertainty, Eastern Facilities Services in the hotseat with the possibility of outsourcing custodial and grounds maintenance staff.
The news came August 29 after the office of Finance and Administration informed Facilities Services personnel that EKU would be requesting proposals from third party vendors for custodial and grounds services. The request for proposal (RFP) was sent out September 9.
Barry Poynter, vice president of Finance and Administration, said the two programs are the university’s first foray in seeing what money saving options are out there.
“We’re just gathering information,” Poynter said. “You don’t know what’s out there ‘till you ask, and we’re just asking.”
According to the RFP, companies that bid on the project must include proposal for both custodial and grounds services together, as well as one for each service separately. It also stipulates that all current EKU custodial and grounds employees be offered a full 40-hour, 52-week position with the new company and no break in health insurance coverage, according to the RFP.
“The big thing is about efficiencies, and that’s what we’re wanting to find out in this information gathering is what efficiencies might there be,” Poynter said. “It’s all driven by the budget that we’re faced with.”
The university last went through a process like this in 2013, after the Board of Regents tasked Finance and Administration with reallocating 10 percent of the university’s budget. The university offered a buyout for employees, and Poynter said many took it.
“We lost 130 employees at the buyout; most of those have not been replaced,” Poynter said. “In total, with the buyout and the layoffs, it was probably more like 150-160 employees on the admin side.”
Poynter stressed that it’s early in the process and nothing has been or will be decided until all the proposals have been submitted.
“If we do anything, we want to take care of our employees,” Poynter said. “If we go down this path, it’ll be a negotiation where we want to be sure we take care of all our employees.”
But workers are worried. Rumblings and rumors have circulated throughout the affected employees, and eight year custodian Carl Shanks said staff is frustrated and waiting anxiously.
“They’re not real happy right now,” Shanks said. “Wondering whether they’re gonna be able to have a job.”
Custodian Phyllis Westenhoefer said there’s a sense of family among Facilities Services that binds the whole university.
“They’ve been really close to the university, they’re close to the students and we’re close to each other,” Westenhoefer said. “I’ve been here nine years, so I’m close to a lot of people. I love my schedule.”
Head Custodian Gilbert “Doukie” Moberly has been with the university for 14 years. He previously worked for an elementary school and is two years from Kentucky’s 27 year minimum retirement eligibility. But Moberly’s concerned about students.
“I think it’s gonna hurt the students,” Moberly said. “I believe they’re just not gonna get their needs.”
If the university decides to outsource before he gets his 27 years in, Moberly said he’ll have to go through the process of finding another state job to finish out.
“It’s kinda sudden,” Moberly said. “Really, nobody’s got a plan what to do. As far as me, I’m just waiting to see what happens.”
Grounds worker Steven Minter said what the employees are facing is wrong.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Minter said as he and other grounds workers set up the City Fest stage Tuesday, September 13 in Powell Plaza. “I’ve worked hard for this place for 16 years. I’ve put in hard work for 16 years here, and for someone to come in and to outsource us–then we lose everything we work for.”
Mickey Marshall was only hired on to the grounds crew in June of this year. He said his employment could be a waste of time if a proposal ends up getting accepted.
“The benefits [are] the only reason I even came. I could make my salary mowing grass,” Marshall said. “But the benefits are great. The sick time’s great. The retirement’s great. The days off we get is great. A contract’s not gonna give you that.”
Associate Vice President of Facilities Services and Capital Planning Paul Gannoe hosted a meeting Tuesday, September 13, in O’Donnell Auditorium to update and answer questions from custodians and ground workers. Most questions asked by the crowd concerned benefits, retirement, insurance, severance pay, pay adjustments, sick time, interested bidders, guaranteed employment, and other subjects that Gannoe said couldn’t be answered until after the proposals are reviewed and the university decides whether to follow through with outsourcing.
For many questions, the best answer Gannoe could offer was “I don’t know.”
“Let the Board of Regents try to live on what custodians make,” someone said from the middle of the room. The comment was met with roaring applause from the other workers.
“Why didn’t they cut Benson’s pay?” asked another.
“We’re being dragged around,” a worker muttered quietly to herself.
Despite the lively dialogue, some 50 people frustratedly walked about before the hour and a half meeting concluded.
According to Poynter, the university is being “absolutely transparent” in the process and nothing has been decided. It’s simply an exercise to gather information so the university has some knowledge of how this might impact the university’s budget.
“We have no clue when this might, or if…” Poynter said, then stopped himself. “It’s so hard to even talk about it because we’re so early in the information gathering process.”
But the affected employees are on the outside looking in, Minter said, and all they can do is wait.
“It’s awful. It’s hard to do the job, really,” Minter said. “We’re sitting out here bustin’ our butts, and they could call us and say ‘Hey, we don’t want you all no more.’”
The RFP is due October 11.