A few days back, when I posted on my university’s duplicitous way of dealing with layoffs, commenter Jake expanded the discussion in a direction that’s really crucial. While my original post dealt with the university’s obfuscation of the impact of cuts on teaching staff, it’s important to note that the announced layoffs will hit facilities employees the hardest.
This is a key point, and not just locally, because it looks an awful lot like what’s happening on a national scale: People who work hard for modest pay lose their jobs while the decision-makers who ran the organization into the ground keep their jobs and their perks. No, Ohio University isn’t AIG or Citicorp, although we do have a private plane for the president’s use – which is not on the chopping block.
Here’s what Jake wrote:
Over the last 3 years, I’ve become relatively good friends with the janitors over at the RTV building, and I always seem to hear about the effects of things on their staff before anyone else really knows about it. It also hits home a little bit because my dad is the buildings and grounds supervisor and does basically all of the maintenance at my high school, and my brother is currently a janitor at a community college. One of the heads of facilities at OU says that the buildings will look just as good, even without all of the lost jobs. Really?? At what cost?? These janitors that still have jobs are already forced to skimp on their duties in order to get done in time. I was told that they’re instructed to use a half hour to clean one bathroom. One of the janitors I talk to has 10 bathrooms to clean each night. That’s 5 of 8 hours right there. How is she supposed to finish her duty effectively that way??
And maybe what makes me even more upset…when you lay off that many people in the maintenance staff, you’re guaranteed to have times, especially at night, when the appropriate person is not available if a certain thing happens (i.e. a burst pipe, a high voltage alarm going off, etc). So, there are two choices. Hire a separate entity to come do the work, or pay someone overtime to come fix the problem. Doesn’t that seem counter productive?? Yet, the head of facilities is reported as saying that neither of those would be necessary. Exactly how??
According to Ohio University’s student paper, the Post, the university plans to cut 32 unionized maintenance workers (and possibly 34 facilities workers altogether, if you go by the story’s accompanying graph – see below). These workers are not janitors, for the most part, because custodians were already laid off en masse in last year’s purge. These are the fix-it people, and their jobs are toast unless a bunch of folks unexpectedly take early retirement. The real loss is greater than 32 or 34 positions, because as the Post reports, another 13 are being eliminated through attrition.
As Jake points out, these cuts to the facilities staff will result in unrealistic workloads, poor service, and probably higher long-term costs. In addition to the costs of overtime and outsourcing that he mentions, deferred maintenance can ultimately raise overall costs, too, by making physical plant more likely to fail catastrophically (think: burst pipes). And there there are the intangible costs. Over time, workers are bound to feel demoralized as they work harder and harder, yet the university starts to resemble the set from the movie Brazil.
I’m swiping the graph from the Post to make one more point. Nearly two-thirds of the jobs cut (59 out of 90) pay less than $45,000 per year. The cuts thus disproportionately hurt a great many people who are already struggling. They may not have much savings. If they’re married, their spouse almost certainly works but probably doesn’t earn big bucks, either. Finding another job anywhere in this economy is hard enough, but in our little pocket of Appalachia, the university is the major employer. The university is offering career counseling services, but it’s a well-meant farce when there are virtually no job openings within commuting distance. (Last month, unemployment was at 7 percent in my county and 10 percent in the neighboring ones.)
What if – instead of laying people off and gutting health care benefits – the university instead negotiated a graduated set of pay cuts? Substantially raising employees’ share of medical expenses is just a backdoor pay cut anyway. One model for how socially responsible pay cuts could work is laid out here. (Disclosure: I helped tweak the brackets on the model, but I don’t have a major personal investment in the details; what matters is the basic idea of solidarity.)
Oh, wait. If you did that, then the people at the top might feel the pain. That would be socialism! Class warfare! The president might have to sell his plane! (I hear you can do that on eBay.)