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updated: 4/15/2014 10:37 AM

Elgin Community College examines outsourcing custodial services

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The Elgin Community College administration is looking into outsourcing custodial services, which could mean the college potentially laying off roughly 98 full-time and part-time custodial employees.

Officials say they are just trying to save money, but the custodians, who are represented by a union, are up in arms.

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Dozens of employees, students and faculty members packed a recent ECC board of trustees meeting calling for the board to drop the idea of hiring an outside maintenance firm.

"The biggest concern is the loss of union jobs," said Vicki Bethke, president of the Support Staff of Elgin Community College Association.

Bethke said the college shouldn't be considering eliminating one of the lowest-paid workers as a means to save money.

"We already have a bargained agreement," she said. "You shouldn't be looking to outsource their work when they are employees of the college."

Just before spring break, the college issued a request for proposals.

ECC spokesman Jeff Julian said the college is accepting proposals through the end of this month, and its business and finance offices will review them in May.

No proposals have been received to date, Julian said.

"We are just exploring other options for custodial services to see if there is an opportunity for savings on the college's part," Julian said. "No decision has been made yet. The college administration will make a decision in June as to whether we are going to pursue any of the RFP (request for proposal) options or keep our custodial program."

Bethke said union representatives didn't have an opportunity to weigh in on guidelines for the request for proposals.

"Some of the parameters in the RFP is asking the outside contractor to pay the prevailing wage of $13.30, yet Elgin Community College does not pay $13.30. They pay beginning custodial workers $9.25 per hour. The majority make less than $10 an hour. They are also targeting a majority minority population. ... The majority of these workers live in District 509 and pay taxes to Elgin Community College."

The college administration should have looked for ways to cut costs internally within the custodial program by eliminating excessive overtime before going to an outside contractor, Bethke said.

ECC spends roughly $3 million yearly on direct and indirect costs related to custodial services.

"The bulk of it is cleaning and janitorial custodial work," Julian said.

The existing contract with custodians and other support staff expires June 30. Of ECC's 98 custodial workers, 17 are full-time employees.

Bethke said union officials will reiterate their concerns at the May 13 college board meeting.

The board of trustees likely will vote on whether to go with an outside firm for custodial services in June.

The administration is only examining custodial services, said Julian, adding, "The college is always looking at different ways to be more efficient or to save funding."

Julian said ECC administration is trying to save money through other means, such as by instituting a zero-based budgeting process, where all proposed expenses are examined on their own merits and not compared to those of the previous year.

"We are looking at possibly leasing our vehicle fleet," he said. "Several other community colleges have gone down this path and seen some significant savings."

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