After the WW-P Board of Education voted unanimously on April 27 to outsource the jobs of 105-120 custodians vice president Robert Johnson blamed the union for everything that happened. He accused it of having orchestrated “a prepackaged campaign brought in from the outside.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! The Board had its own campaign plan, and it too had outside help — an outsourcing consultant that boasts of its ability to guide schools through what it calls the “political” hazards of privatization. From the get-go the board and the school administration had the edge –– they had the budget numbers to bandy about at will — no one else knew enough to call them on their figures. Moreover, having control of the school district’s website, they had the upper hand when it came to communicating with the public.
Together the board and the administration ran a masterful campaign. They pushed all the right buttons. They played to the community’s fear of higher taxes; they stoked the fires of anti-union sentiment; they tried to turn sympathy for the custodians into resentment of their wages and benefits; they sought to quell any qualms of conscience the community might have; they attempted to marginalize those residents who supported the custodians; and they were fast on their feet, reacting swiftly to perceived danger. Finally via the district’s website they allowed misperceptions to arise that served their own interests.
So how exactly did the board and administration manage to do all those things? Here’s how:
* They continually warned the community that there was no way to keep the custodians and hold down taxes. “You can’t have it both ways” became board president Hermant Marathe’s almost daily mantra.
* They referred over and over again to what they characterized as the union’s intransigence so that eventually, in the public mind, the custodians ceased to be a group of frightened people and became, instead, just another bunch of pushy union members.
* They never missed an opportunity to quote their outsourcing consultant’s grievously misleading assertion that the custodians “enjoy wages well in excess of the 75th percentile of their occupation.” Was there a single resident who didn’t feel some measure of resentment when they saw that inflammatory statistic in the newspapers?
* They never spoke of outsourcing without simultaneously offering a sop to everyone’s conscience by referring in the same breath, to “these hard times.”
* They voted early in their campaign to exclude the residents’ comments from the published minutes of their public meetings and they spoke much more frequently about those who privately supported the outsourcing than about those who publicly opposed it.
* Realizing that people were especially disturbed by the unfairness of giving raises to those at the top while firing those at the bottom, they trumpeted the news that the Administrators’ Association had revisited its contract and made some concessions (which were, to put it mildly, minimal.)
* In the middle of April, on the district’s website, they prominently displayed the news that they had ratified a new contract with the Service Association union, and not surprisingly this news led many of the custodians’ supporters to the mistaken belief that outsourcing was no longer on the table, making further protests unnecessary.
* Conversely at the end of April they declined to post anything on the website about the Service Association’s presentation of a potentially viable financial alternative to outsourcing. Thus, other residents who did not think the custodians’ jobs had already been saved and who might have been stirred to action remained silent because they never heard of the union’s last-ditch effort to save the custodians.
Sadly, in the final analysis, despite their own best efforts and the very vocal and active support of many residents the WW-P custodians never really stood a chance. Perhaps they might have survived if the board and the administration had explained the math. Simple stuff really. Assuming the board was telling the truth when it said that the only way to save $1.5 million was to fire 105 custodians, then keeping them would, in effect, have added $1.5 million to the budget. And since a $1 million increase in the budget translates into an average household tax increase of $25, then the addition of that $1.5 million would have cost the average household $37.50 (36 cents per custodian). Had the public known that, it is possible that our custodians would still be with us next year.
South Mill Road, West Windsor
To the School Board: Privatization Costs
I am writing to express my disapproval of your decision to fire custodial employees. They have come forward to express their willingness to cut costs, and yet you have decided to fire them anyway.
You believe you will save $1.5 million, but there are many hidden costs.
According to a recent WW-P News article, the new company will mop the floors and empty recyling bins on a weekly basis. That sounds like a public health issue. Have you ever seen the floors in the classrooms at the end of the day? Not vacuuming will result in pest problems (cockroaches, ants, rats), which will require an increase in costs for pest-removal and treatment with chemicals that are potentially harmful to children.
Yet you persist in accepting the idea that a private company can bring you savings by padding CEO wallets while robbing hardworking employees of salary and benefits.
If there are problems with the management of the custodial staff, why not address those problems instead of firing the staff? If there are too many paid days off, why not restructure the employment terms?
Think about it: you are sacrificing 105 employees so that you can hire janitors at a lower price while paying the CEO and managers at Aramak. You think this will save you $1.5 million but in fact it will end up costing you more.
Piedmont Drive, West Windsor