UWS crews protest job outsourcing
Mike Fanaselle said he feels like a dog being punished. He’s worked as a custodian for the University of Wisconsin-Superior nearly 17 years, starting in the residence halls before caring for academic buildings.
“I’ve worked on pretty much all the buildings,” said Fanaselle, who makes a little over $13 per hour. He volunteered for extra safety training, from CPR, tornado drills, what to do if there’s a shooter on campus and fire extinguisher use. The custodian bought a home three blocks from campus and starts work each morning at 4 a.m.
“I still enjoy coming here to this day,” he said. “It’s my second home.”
Over the years, the university’s custodian and grounds crew have fought for higher wages and other issues, Fanaselle said, but getting an at-risk notice telling him his job may be outsourced to a private company was something different.
“I’m nervous, definitely nervous this time,” he said.
About 28 custodians and grounds crew received the notices in May. They came on the heels of the university’s decision to outsource the campus bookstore starting July 1.
Fanaselle joined about two dozen picketers Monday on the corner of Belknap Street and Catlin Avenue. Later, the group marched through the campus chanting “Keep our custodians. Keep our grounds crew.”
The university is evaluating options as it seeks to identify $4.5 million in cuts and revenue growth over the next five years, said Lynne Williams, UWS spokeswoman. About $2 million of that has to be found within two years.
“We are going through fiscal challenges and we’re looking at options throughout the university,” Williams said.
A number of master’s degree programs in the visual and communicating arts, reading and library science were suspended, as have library science minors and the music performance jazz concentration major. That means new students won’t be accepted in those programs. There are plans to rework academic programs, grow online and athletic programs and find areas to grow revenue, as well.
The university has made no decision on the custodians and grounds crew yet, Williams said. Sending the proposal out for bid will take at least six weeks, and that process has not started yet. The proposals would be evaluated to determine if it would be feasible to outsource some or all of the work. There is no timeline on the decision, but the current contracts for custodial and grounds staff end this summer.
The decision won’t affect just the university’s bottom-line, according to Kathy O’Flanagan, a financial aid specialist for UWS. If the positions are outsourced, she said, “I’m going to feel unsafe.”
Students and staff get to know custodians, Fanaselle said. They trust the custodial staff to return their misplaced purses, laptops, wallets and other items. For the past decade, many of them have become members of the volunteer emergency support team, receiving training in everything from CPR to fire procedures.
“We don’t just clean,” Fanaselle said. “We’re a huge safety net.”
And they’re vested in the campus, O’Flanagan said. They take time to set up events and sports competitions; they know the buildings and go beyond the call of duty.
History Professor Joel Sipress said one custodian recently stayed late to make sure one of his colleagues was safe.
“These folks live here, work here, we don’t want their jobs outsourced,” said Tamara Jones of Duluth, president of the Carlton County Central Labor Body.
Marty Biel, director of the state employees union out of Madison, said custodians already have been laid off at a pair of two-year state colleges in Marathon and Waukesha.
Picketers encouraged community members to contact UWS Chancellor Renee Wachter if they disagree with outsourcing custodial and grounds crew jobs. Wachter can be reached at email@example.com or 715-394-8221.
“We would be open to community input,” Williams said. Business and community leaders participated in a survey as part of last year’s strategic plan process to help identify university priorities.