Web Extra! More comments from speakers

None of the 20 people who spoke during last Thursday’s public hearing were in favor of District 200’s proposal to outsource custodial work.

Oak Park and River Forest High School custodians and other staff were among the speakers. The hearing at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville, took place in the third-floor library before the Dist. 200 school board’s regular meeting. Nearly 200 people attended the hearing, which was moved to the library because of the number of people who showed up. That fact was mentioned by one of the speakers, who argued that the custodians are often called on to do last-minute setup work for events.

The hearing came as the high school explores whether to outsource its custodial work to a third-party contractor. The board scheduled the hearing to hear from the public. No vote was scheduled that night, board President Jacques Conway and other members assured the large crowd at the outset. Board members did not make comments during the hearing but received an earful in the hour-long session.

The custodians are currently in contract talks with the school. Their previous contract expired last year, but they’ve continued working under the terms of that agreement. Tim McDonald, vice president of Service Employees International Union, Local 73, said the school had planned to outsource as early as November 2008, informing the union of that intent during negotiations. SEIU represents custodians and other employees at OPRF. McDonald contended a third-party vendor would rotate workers in and out of the building and that the school wouldn’t receive the same quality work.

“There is absolutely no reason to outsource this work,” said McDonald, who accused the school of trying to bust the union. “Nobody has shown that anybody in this custodial unit is not doing a great job for this school … nobody here has given me a good reason why you need to outsource this work.”

Toni Hagins, assistant head custodian at OPRF, questioned the district’s cost-savings argument for outsourcing.

“The reasoning that I’ve heard for this decision has been stated as fiduciary responsibility. I ask this board if you have any idea of what the custodians do to keep this aging building in the showplace condition you see?” said Hagins, a 12-year school employee, referring to the 103-year-old building.

Eileen Riley, wife of an OPRF electrician, said the custodial union refused to take a huge pay cut in salaries and benefits and rejected the school’s contract offer. She noted that administrators and teachers received new contracts and salary increases last year. Some speakers said they’ve gotten to know some of the school’s 28 custodians personally, insisting they were “our family.”

A couple of OPRF teachers also spoke in opposition to outsourcing. Louis Giovannetti, a math teacher and freshmen wrestling coach, got emotional during his remarks.

“Don’t look at custodians as a budget line item,” he said.

After the hearing concluded, the board reconvened for its regular meeting, where members responded to comments.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

Some of the speakers read from a written statement:

Mary Jo Lopez: “I understand fiduciary responsibility, but where is it? When President Obama spoke, the first thing he did was ask all of his administrators who make over $100,000 a year for a pay freeze. I know for a fact that last year your administrators got at least a 5 percent increase. What are they going to get this year? Are they going to take a freeze? Is that a fiduciary responsibility or is that on the backs of custodians?”

Mary Ann Smith, wife of a custodian: “I want you to know that you absolutely need to think of custodians as part of the school community. I just really believe that these people take so much pride in what they do around here.”

Gene Washington, Service Employees International Union official: “This is a scar on Oak Park. If you allow a third-party in here, you are reducing the quality of your employees. It’s not going to be the same quality of people. It’s going to be a revolving door, and all you need is one incident with an outside company. I know you rent this building out sometimes. Say you get a guy in here that’s an alcoholic or a drug addict and he doesn’t do what he’s suppose to do. You lose revenue that way. So, outsourcing is a bad thing and you really need to keep these guys here.”

Milanne Bancroft, Dist. 200 employee: “B&G is so responsive and so cheerful and so ready, willing and able to help us get our jobs done. We can’t do it without that kind of help. And you can not get a quote from any outside company that includes those kinds of extras and that kind of care.”

Elizabeth Melara: “I’m a 20-year employee of the Village of Oak Park and I’ve seen many efforts at outsourcing in the name of budget considerations. Years ago I saw them outsource our parking permit office. It didn’t last too long. It didn’t work and there were a lot of problems with those people. They had to bring it back to the workers. I’ve watched our forestry work being privatized. You’ve seen all the trees we’ve lost in Oak Park. That’s because we’ve got people out there that don’t have a stack in the community, don’t care about our trees and, I’m sorry to say, they’re not being paid a prevailing wage because these companies are hiring undocumented people in order to exploit them. This is not something Oak Park should be a part of.”

Suze Ferrier, OPRF teacher: “I want you to think about this: what if you decide to actually outsource and you find out that you were wrong, really wrong? Is it worth it?

Mike Hagins, Oak Park resident and 1996 OPRF graduate: “When I heard about the possibility of outsourcing buildings and grounds I was outraged. Over my career at Oak Park High School, buildings and grounds always provided a finely-efficient service to ensure that we had a clean and safe environment for learning. Looking around the room, I see several familiar faces. These employees are the same ones who were here when I was a student. You’re not going to get that kind of personal interest and dedication from a third party.”

Brian Mullin, OPRF student: “When I entered here four years ago, not only were my peers and my teachers part of my family, but also the custodians. And no one does their job as professionally, with such class, and just as proper and as good as can be as the custodians that work here.”

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