Sources express concern over benefits and sick time.
As the College of Wooster moves closer to selecting a partner to outsource the College’s custodial and dining services, custodial and dining staff members and students speak out about the College’s decision to outsource these services.
“We are saddened to see the College enabling this through outsourcing us to [a] big corporation,” said a Campus Dining and Conference Services staff member. Due to outsourcing jobs, the dining staff member expressed concerns regarding their benefits and sick time. “I have accumulated nearly 1,000 hours in sick time, not calling off work in years. Some people have over 1,200 [hours]” they said. The dining staff member also claimed that the College can afford to pay out their sick time “but choose not to,” stating, “they have left us up in the air on this subject, perhaps to deter people from calling off who believe they can ‘use it or lose it.” The staff member also said that members of the dining staff think outsourcing their services will make things worse. “The administration has stated that they are outsourcing to alleviate our suffering,” they said. “We feel as though they have increased the hardship.”
While President Sarah Bolton said in an email on Jan. 5 that the College will provide staff members with a wage level that “at least” matches their current wage and “good benefits,” the dining staff member said they are skeptical of these promises. “We all hope that will be true,” they said, “but the distrust is very high.” Bolton told the Voice in January that the College was asking their staff members to do the “impossible” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The dining staff member said that dining’s independent operation called for perseverance among staff members. “We have put in the time working 20-40 hours overtime per week to make feeding students possible.” The dining staff member also said they do not believe the outsourcing corporation can “magically” hire enough staff members. “With companies nationwide struggling still to fill job vacancies,” they said, “we do not believe that a new company will magically be able to hire all the people needed.”
A custodial services staff member shared similar concerns. “This situation is downright ruthless!” they said. “We have had a total of four people turned in resignations last week and today, and the rest of us except for two are frantically searching for new jobs,” claimed the custodial staff member. The custodial staff member also emphasized the potential absence of sick time with an outsourcing partner. “They are taking away all our sick time,” said the custodial staff member. “We earned it.” Regarding the Voice’s coverage of custodial services last spring, the custodial member claimed “nothing has changed, still the same and the workload [sic] has doubled.” The custodial member cited the College’s hiring of ABM as a step towards outsourcing. “Due to the furlough of our workers and then bringing them back to the second shift, which disrupted their lives, we lost half of our crew,” said another custodial services staff member. “No one is going to want to go into those residential halls with ginormous [sic] cockroaches and put up with that with no benefits.”
A former member of Campus Dining and Conference Services also reprimanded the College for their lack of transparency and that “there are folks that have worked for the College for two, three and even four decades in the Dining Services Department,” they said. “These dedicated people are being outsourced. People who will probably not speak to [the Voice] out of loyalty and respect but, also, because of fear that the company they are being outsourced to may choose to let them go after six months for being too much trouble.”
The former staff member commended the dining staff’s resilience throughout the pandemic, and raised concerns regarding how their benefits will be impacted when a new company takes over. “While the pandemic has created trying times for most retail and custodial service departments, there are Dining Services folks that continue to show up and work past their shift for the students and staff,” they said. “Many of these employees rely on the College’s abundant benefits for themselves and their families. Now they are going to have to fight against a new insurance company who may or may not choose to cover a preexisting condition, or who may or may not match their retirement contributions. Then, they may have to battle the hardest challenge of all: ageism in the hiring process.”
The Living Wage Campaign (LWC) recently reached out to President Bolton about the “abrupt and unexpected decision to outsource our community’s Dining and Custodial Services.” LWC asked Bolton to address the College’s plans to receive student and staff’s feedback, interrogated the wages for dining workers, and also raised questions regarding the process to outsource custodial services. When asked how the College plans to ensure that students and staff can attend the meeting with the finalists for dining services if they present during work hours, Bolton replied, “we will record the presentations and provide them for people to view at their convenience if they can’t make it.” She added that “during the designated time for dining staff to meet with those presenting, we will close dining so that all dining staff can easily attend.”
Bolton also explained how students and staff can be a part of the decision-making process. “There will be a survey shared for feedback,” she said. “The survey won’t just be ‘which company do you prefer?’ It will ask a variety of questions to get input from students, staff and faculty. Those results will be useful to the selection committee not just in choosing the company to go with, but also in further honing what we ask of the company that is selected.”
She then made reassurances regarding wages for workers. “All of the companies work very actively with student workers on their campuses, and all pay at least what we currently pay student workers,” she stated. “Some of the companies have roles for students (for example as sustainable food interns) that go beyond what we have offered in the past.”
Finally, Bolton clarified where the College stands in terms of the process to outsource custodial services. “The custodial process is a little bit behind the dining process,” she said. “We expect to have more details for campus about that process within a few weeks. The same commitments hold for both custodial and dining staff: everyone who wishes to have a job with the new company, everyone will have at least the wage they made here, if not more, everyone will have good health insurance and retirement, everyone will continue to have access to the College’s tuition benefits.”
“We are grateful for all the years The College of Wooster has allowed us to work for them and made providing for our families possible,” the staff member said, “but we do not understand the betrayal now.”
“We are all tired, exhausted, overworked,” said a custodial member. “We are tired of the lies, mistreatment, and most of all we are tired of being silenced.”