BOT: Think about quality, not cost

The+Oakland+Post

The Oakland Post

By Kaylee Kean

For four months the Finance and Administration Division of the Facilities Management Department has waited.  For four months the Board of Trustees has deliberated on authorizing a negotiation of a custodial contract with one of three vendors. For four months, OU’s custodial future has been muddied with uncertainty, waiting for October 22.

The players: Aramark, the Kristel Group and the Michigan Education Association Oakland University Campus Maintenance and Trades (MEA-OUCMT). Of the three, OUCMT is the only group that consists of university personnel, in other words, not outsourced.

Outsourcing began in the 1990s, when the Board

decided that the cleaning of any new buildings would be handed over to outside companies. Buildings built since then, with the exception of the Human Health Building, have been outsourced, while the internal custodial staff retains control over the rest.

Due to OU’s rapid expansion and the creation of many new structures, most buildings are currently under the care of Aramark. The company’s contract, which was most recently approved in 2009, had an original expiration date of June 30, 2014. Due to a combination of disagreement, internal changes and lack of trustees knowledgeable on the topic, the Board has been unable to reach a quorum on a contract renewal at its last few meetings. It has extended the contract to July 9, then to Aug. 31, then again until its next formal session, occurring Oct. 22.

Aramark is not the only bidder, however. OUCMT has reached its tipping point and has stepped up with its own bid.

“The current level of outsourcing of our custodial services on campus…has caused a lot of anxiety and discouragement among the existing staff because they never know what’s going to happen,” said Ray Wilcox, a custodian who has been with university housing for almost 25 years. 

“It’s really kind of an unprecedented thing for a union to do this, to bid on a work,” said Mick Ide, groundskeeper of 10 years and current OUCMT president. “But it goes to show that our group really wants to be a value to the university. We still want to be the custodial staff on this campus.”

In addition to general buildings and supplies costs, OUCMT’s bid promises a large number of part-time positions and 16 full-time positions with full benefit packages. Those packages, amounting to $200,000 a year, are what put the bid over the Board’s desired budget.

The bid may seem steep, but don’t be deceived — the amount adds up to $1 million over the contract’s five-year period: less than half a percent of OU’s total annual budget, according to Wilcox.

“We felt we couldn’t do anything less,” Wilcox said. “We really worked hard and got [the bid] down as far as we could, but you can only go so far and still offer quality employment.”

OUCMT is not trying raise pay for its already-established members – it is trying to create more positions and be a larger part of the campus community.

In fact, if its proposal is selected, it could bring approximately 51.5 additional employees to the university, according to the Board’s Aug. 12 session agenda.

Students such as Shana Romancheck, a senior applied health sciences major, say they don’t care as much about price so long as the job is being done right.

“If you have to pay more, especially if it’s local, I think that’s better,” Romancheck said.

Rich Heide, an adjunct professor at OU, said he is not on campus much but thinks everyone does a good job at keeping campus clean. 

“I wish that they could be just OU employees, quite honestly – make it feel more like a part of the university,” he said.

Aramark’s case isn’t being helped by recent reports in The Detroit Free Press on food shortages, lack of cleanliness and workers smuggling contraband into state prisons, either. While Trustee Ronald Robinson brought this up at the most recent formal session, saying he “would like everybody to give recent consideration to what has been publicized regarding Aramark,” outsourcing with the reportedly unscrupulous company proves to be a very real possibility.

The Oakland Post urges the Board of Trustees to consider the humanity of the situation when it comes to these contracts; it it about much more than the money. Instead of choosing the cheaper option, choose the better one. Take OUCMT’s bid into serious consideration and create more positions for Oakland University employees, and keep the outsiders out. 

Students pay for a quality university experience, and The Oakland Post asks the Board of Trustees to deliver the promised experience. Make these custodial contracts less about affordable cleaning services and more about clean reputations by employing the local employees and their part in OU. Make this about providing higher-quality and more personal, friendly

service. Really, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, what is more important for students and staff: a few extra dirty dollars or a more clean-cut campus experience?