. Monday, June 22, 2009

The following press release was put out on for the June 11th Rally and Board of Regents Meeting

PRESS RELEASE- For Immediate Release
June 11, 2009

Press Contacts:
Veryl Pow 253 678-4402;
April Nishimura 425 281-0500;
UW Custodians Continue to Fight On-Campus Abuse
Unsatisfied with Short-term Victory, Custodians Continue to Fight; Students and Workers to Confront UW Board of Regents

Unsatisfied with the short-term victory gained from the previous rally on May 28th, enraged custodians at UW continue to fight alongside students to retain their nightshift jobs. This Thursday, June 11th, custodians and students will be escalating the fight by directly confronting the Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services, Charles Kennedy, who administers Custodial Services. At the previous rally, over two hundred custodians and students demonstrated to prevent the management of Custodial Services from re-assigning all nightshift custodians to dayshifts on June 1st. The strong and energetic showing at the rally successfully pressured management to temporarily delay the transfer over to dayshift by one month, or July 1st. However, despite this delay, on July 1st, nightshift custodians are set to be transferred onto dayshift, an impractical move for those with second jobs or those who normally take care of their children or aging parents during the day. For some who require second day jobs to supplement the meager $20,000-$30,000 they earn as custodians, the transfer over to dayshift means losing their houses altogether because of the inability to pay mortgages on the custodial salary alone.

Despite strong community support for custodians, management has already laid off 17 custodians, eliminated 29 other vacant custodial positions, and shown its tenacity to push through the transfer to dayshift. Management is retaliating against dayshift custodians who participated in the May 28th rally by reassigning their parking locations. Management is retaliating against dayshift custodians who participated in the May 28th rally by reassigning their managers, and thus their time punch locations starting the Monday after the rally. Whearas previously custodians punched in at or close to their worksites, some have now been reassigned time punch locations much further away, with some (including many women) forced to walk upwards of forty-five minutes in the middle of the night (dayshift begins at 5 a.m.) before arriving to their worksites.
Management has also retaliated by assigning those workers who attended the May 28th rally additional tasks that are beyond their workload. Workers have also been randomly reassigned to new workplaces they have never worked at before.

Additionally, in anticipation of the transfer on July 1st, management has already introduced “team cleaning” among some dayshift workers. “Team cleaning,” in which groups of custodians are assigned specific tasks and work in teams, will replace the current model of custodians assuming numerous duties individually. “Team cleaning” is viewed by management as an adequate measure to compensate for the shorter period of time custodians will have to clean all the classrooms and labs after the transfer. While nightshift custodians now have eight hours to clean classrooms, transferring them over to dayshift means that custodians will only have three hours to clean classrooms and labs before lectures and lab sessions begin at 8 a.m. Many custodians, such as James Wilson, have complained that “team cleaning” instead slows the cleaning process because “management is shoving workers into groups where each [custodian] is unfamiliar with the cleaning techniques of the others.” Furthermore, lab technicians in the Health Sciences building have also voiced concern that eliminating night-time cleaning will interfere with the quality of their research. UW professor of Medicine and Genome Sciences, Mary-Claire King, runs a laboratory in Health Sciences, which brings in millions of dollars to in federally funded grants to the university. She worries that after the transfer, custodians will have to continue cleaning into lab sessions to ensure a clean and safe work environment. According to King, “My lab has 32 people working at lab benches with highly fragile constructs and reagents all day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m…if these custodians had to work around 32 people, it would be madness.”

Management has continually framed the layoffs and transfers as necessary cost-saving measures in these troubled economic times. However, according to custodian Ken Mills, who took part in negotiations with management, “We’re willing to make concessions that will give [the university] the same savings through another method.” In an attempt to save the nightshift, the union representing the custodians, the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) 1144, conceded to give up its night-time shift differential, which amounts to $180,000. WFSE’s concession, attempts to negate the cost-saving rationale behind management’s transfers. In response, management has accepted the union’s offer to deduct the shift differential, but has not held up its end. In fact, it fully intends to carry out the transfers on July 1st. Jane Mee Wong, a member of the Anti-Budget Cuts Coalition, believes that the transfer has nothing to do with the budget crisis, but is “part of a larger, long-term push to squeeze custodians, reducing the number of custodians, and increasing their workload while their real wages and benefits decline.” Indeed, Gene Woodard, the Director of Custodial Services, has said, “It’s been a long-term trend of ours to move buildings to the day shift. We’ve been doing this since 1997…In 1997, we had 35 custodians on days, and now we have 186 custodians on days.”

To add to the doubts of management’s claims of cost-saving, allegations of management corruption have recently surfaced. According to Marla Bradeen, an analyst at the Finance and Business Services, which oversees the expenditures of Facilities Services, “Facilities Services appears committed to cutting services and personnel in order to prove the department’s need to more funding.” She believes that custodial management would rather cut staff and services to create an illusion that Facilities Services was already facing budget cuts and therefore, would be able to retain its full funding. She continues, “Cutting salaries or implementing furloughs may leave the impression that Facilities Services could easily withstand budget cuts and place our department in the position of having to absorb additional cuts in the future.” Thus, neither Charles Kennedy, whose salary has increased 30% over the past couple of years from $200,000 to $260,000, nor Gene Woodard, whose salary is $133,560, face salary reductions, despite the aforementioned layoffs to 17 custodians and the transfer of nightshift custodians to the dayshift. In other words, the layoffs and transfer are visible measures that give the impression of a budget shortfall within Facilities Services, but are designed to effectively preserve the high salaries of management. Marla speculates that this is the reason why the 2.5 million dollar surplus money that Facilities Services has carried over into the fiscal year is not being tapped to save custodial jobs, but instead to “improve infrastructure” such as renovating the Physical Plant Office Building where Charles Kennedy’s office is located. Matthew Hamilton, member of the Anti-Budget Cuts Coalition, believes Custodial Services is moving towards a “top-heavy management structure” where the increase in management’s pay is matched by an increase in the number of managers overseeing a decreasing custodian workforce. Currently ten managers and ten supervisors manage 260 custodians.

According to student Alice Roesch-Knapp, “The custodial situation is a microcosm of how budget cuts are being distributed across the University of Washington. Tuition hikes are making higher education less accessible, and are a sign of how UW is being privatized.” Privatizing the custodial staff would mean the elimination of retirement, benefits, health insurance, sick leave and vacation time and union protection from other worker abuses. Because of the increased privatization of the university, following the confrontation with Charles Kennedy, custodians and students will then head to the UW Board of Regents meeting to challenge the budget cuts expected to be passed earlier that morning. Cuts will disproportionately affect UW’s most vulnerable populations such as custodians and low-income youth by raising tuition levels to 28% over the next two years. In addition, students will be paying more for a reduced quality of education. At least six branch libraries are expected to close, the future of the Disability Studies department is uncertain, and the Women’s Center faces a 50% cut in its budget and the elimination of all work-study positions. According to Jane Mee Wong, “The current budget cuts at UW are not simply an issue of fiscal policy, but one of civil rights and access of the university to women, students of color, and working class students.”

At the Regents meeting, custodians and students will demand that the Regents instead adopt an alternative budget developed by students, staff, and community members that proposes viable solutions to counter the budget cuts. The alternative budget was publicly presented to the Board of Regents at their May 28th meeting. These solutions include a salary cap at $150,000 for those making over $150,000, which alone will save $3.6 million. Both students and custodians are hoping that the Regents will willingly address and adopt their alternative budget. If not, students and custodians will not accept the budget cuts quietly at the Regents meeting on Thursday.

Anti-Budget Cuts Coalition (ABC Coalition)
The Anti–Budget Cuts Coalition is a broad-based group of students, workers, and community members at University of Washington. We are committed to fighting for alternatives to layoffs, tuition increases and cuts to higher education so that the University remains accessible to students of color, working-class students, women, and queer students.