Chelmsford, MA School Committee Votes to Privatize School Custodians - Private Vendor Offers Veteran Employees Minimum Wage 06/26/2011

Members of the Chelmsford, MA School Committee recently voted to outsource the jobs of 24 AFSCME school custodians, leaving the long-serving public employees two choices – unemployment or a 60% cut in pay working for the for-profit company that duped the naïve committee members into signing the agreement.

Despite concession offers by the custodians that included significant cuts in wages and benefits, the school board voted to hand over school maintenance to Aramark – a corporation that pays high six figure salaries to top executives and poverty wages to front-line staff.    

Committee members Al Thomas, Michael Rigney and Nick DeSilvio cast the heartless and shortsighted vote, while members Evelyn Thoren and Janet Askenburg took the coward’s way out by failing to show for the meeting. Askenburg cited an unspecific “potential” conflict of interest.

Thomas’ vote was the most disappointing.  A former teacher and school principle, Thomas had assured the custodians for several months that he was in their corner but broke his word at the 11th hour. 

Last week, custodians Mike Greenwood and Rick Thorne joined Council 93’s Jim Durkin and Joe Maccarone for a meeting with reporters from the Lowell Sun to discuss the impact on the custodians.  Read the Lowell Sun story here. or see text below

If you want to tell the Chelmsford School Committee members how you feel about their vote to cast our union brothers and sisters into poverty wage jobs, you can reach them through the following contact information, which is also readily available on the Chelmsford School Department website.  

Al Thomas: (978) 256-8772

[email protected]

Nick DeSilvio: (978) 250-9101

[email protected]

Michael Rigney: (978) 256-1186

[email protected]

see text of Lowell Sun Story below


Janitors: Pay cut will force us to retire

By Rita Savard, [email protected]

Updated: 06/21/2011 06:41:49 AM EDT

CHELMSFORD-- They offered to take a pay cut and slash their benefits, but the school district's custodians say it wasn't enough. Now their union says janitors are being forced into early retirement after the new corporate bosses offered to keep them on the job -- for a 60 percent cut in hourly wages.

Following a School Committee vote to outsource custodial services on June 8, Aramark Education Services will hold a contract to manage cleaning, maintenance and facilities in Chelmsford's seven schools.

Although the corporation has agreed to retain the jobs of 23.5 custodians, Michael Greenwood and Rick Thorne say Aramark offered even veteran custodians who have been on the job for 23 years a decrease in hourly wages, going from $18 per hour to $8.25 per hour. Under the new contract, health benefits would also cost about $100 more per month, custodians said.

A spokesperson from Aramark was unavailable for comment yesterday.

"Putting this all on the backs of the people who can least afford it just doesn't seem fair," said Greenwood, president of the union. "What sacrifices have the administration been making? There are many pulling in six-figure salaries. What are they giving up?"

Greenwoodsaid Aramark's offer gives the majority of the custodial staff no alternative but retirement. Greenwood, whose wife is battling terminal cancer, said if he took lesser insurance combined with the steep pay cut, he'd lose the house he worked his life for.

It costs the school district $1.3 million per year for the custodial staff. Outsourcing the service to Aramark will cost about $841,000, saving the school district about $460,000 annually.

Schoolofficials say they hammered out a contract that stressed a preference for retaining the current custodial staff. But what happens now is between custodians and the contract holder.

"We didn't discuss with Aramark the salary they would negotiate with staff," said Superintendent Frank Tiano. "At that point, it's our hope that veteran staff would be offered more than $8 an hour. But now that's in the hands of Aramark."

Thorne, the highest paid custodian, made $38,495 last year, not including overtime. Greenwood made about $36,973. Custodians said any overtime accrued is typically paid by outside sources that rent the school buildings and need custodians on hand to clean during and after events.

Greenwood, 59, has worked as a custodian in Chelmsford for 13 years. Thorne has worked in the district 23 years.

SchoolCommittee member Allen Thomas, who was elected to the board in April, said it was a tough vote. Thomas knows the men well after working as a teacher, dean and principal in the district for many years.

At first he was against it. But the more discussions touched upon the cost of replacing outdated equipment and the loss of 10 custodial positions over the past decade, Thomas said his opinion changed.

"The cost of replacing old equipment and staff was so considerable," Thomas said. "It's a sad circumstance and it's not the custodians' fault. It's the situation they were put in after a long period of time, of not having the money to upkeep equipment."

Thomas also said hourly wages weren't discussed, but it was his understanding that the benefits were reasonably good for both health and dental. Custodians did not receive dental under the school district's insurance plan.

Custodianshad a chance to bid for the contract as well, but were unable to match Aramark's offer.

"We were willing to come to an understanding," Greenwood said. "We offered to take a $1.50-per-hour cut in pay, give up a week's vacation and paid sick days. They didn't want it, but they didn't really tell us what they wanted from us."

The custodians' union is also the last union to have a sick bank in place, which allows workers to deposit and accumulate unused sick days for them to cash in on later.

Custodianssay in the end, outsourcing could cost the district more. With more than 1,000 days in the bank, the school district could have to shell out more than $100,000 to the janitors.

Schoolofficials declined to comment on the sick bank yesterday because they were still in negotiations with the union.

Jim Durkin, a union representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it's not too late for the School Committee to "admit it made a mistake."

"The School Committee should be listening to what the community wants," Durkin said, adding that every teacher in the school district signed a petition to keep the custodians' jobs.

Many of the teachers expressed concern over bringing in workers at low wages resulting in more turnover and more strangers coming in and out of the schools.

"If these people lose their jobs, there are 1,051 labor households in Chelmsford under the AFSCME umbrella and we will make sure they all know what happened," Durkin said.

SchoolCommittee member Nick DeSilvio said the committee's decision ultimately came down to the bigger picture.

"I never knew what was offered as far as hourly rates were concerned," he said. "I had to look at the long run, and that was the impact to students. The cost savings will help the district do what we do best, and that's educate our kids."