Washington, DC—Howard University facilities maintenance and trade workers rallied today in protest of Interim President Dr. Wayne Frederick’s decision to outsource its facilities management work, a move which could reduce wages and benefits as well as the quality of work performed. Contractors can cut corners on cleaning standards, underbid their first contract and hike up the price later, or cut and run when they don’t make enough profit. Though the university is facing budgetary challenges, outsourcing won’t solve them and can even lead to unforeseen problems that can be difficult to reverse.
“My wife and daughter graduated from here, I sang in the Howard gospel choir,” said Willie Lucas, an electrician who’s worked at the University for 38 years. “If wages and benefits are cut, it could do a lot of damage to the Howard community.” As direct employees of the University, workers receive family-sustaining wages and benefits including health insurance, pensions, and tuition remission for themselves and their children.
Since 2010, Howard has already tried two different contractors to perform facilities work and now may seek another. If the University loses the capacity to do facilities work in house, it will be in a weaker position to hold contractors accountable for the cost and quality of their work. It could also discourage experienced, long-time employees from remaining in the community.
“I am proud to be a member of the Howard Community and I work hard to keep the University running smoothly,” said Lynn Wilkins, a head custodian who’s worked at Howard for over 30 years. “If wages and benefits are cut, this would really hurt us. We have bills to pay, families to care for and the community would be worse off.”
Howard has already invested in the buildings, trucks, tools and other capital assets that it needs to maintain its aging campus. While the University may be able to sell some of these assets or lease them to the incoming contractor, the ensuing new arrangements will require oversight by Howard’s administrative staff. University officials planning to have outsourcing take effect in August.
Many Howard facilities workers have been at the University for decades and have even sent their own children to the University. These 200 workers include cleaners, carpenters, painters, electricians and plumbers who work at residence halls, academic and administrative buildings, as well as other on and off campus buildings.
After rallying on Howard’s campus, workers marched to the University Administration Building and delivered a petition signed by over 300 people, urging Frederick to act responsibly and keep their jobs in-house
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states, including 17,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.
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