Under a pending contract to outsource custodial services, most of the 200 school custodians currently employed by the Cherokee County School District will take a substantial pay cut, contract details reveal.
Although, under a $5.33 million contract with Aramark, all current employees will be offered a full-time job and a benefit package, many will become 10-month instead of year-round employees.
At the July 24 school board meeting, when the Cherokee County Board of Education chose Aramark as the custodial provider for the district, board members acknowledged the situation for the workers was not ideal.
Employees affected by the outsourcing learned more about their situation on Aug. 13, when informational meetings were held.
Custodial Night Supervisor Ron Carey said he was initially excited about the move to Aramark because “it’s a big company,” but that his “heart fell” when he heard the details of the upcoming custodial employment deal.
The decision regarding outsourcing custodians was made because the state opted to withdraw the full $400 million it had formerly committed to paying a portion of classified employees’ health benefits at a time when State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) premiums were skyrocketing, said Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo.
Custodian outsourcing is only one of the $7.1 million in new cuts made in the district’s budget for the new school year, in addition to more than $120 million in cuts made in the past five years as a result of falling property values and state austerity cuts.
“The research showed that privatization would yield immediate and long-term significant savings — enough funding to restore two additional school days (and eliminate the corresponding two furlough days) — with all affected CCSD employees being offered jobs with health care benefits by the private companies,” said school district Director of Communications Barbara Jacoby.
When explaining their decisions in favor of outsourcing custodial services at the school board meeting, both school board members Robert Wofford and Patsy Jordan were visibly upset.
“Is this the best option I can give you?” Wofford said, addressing the district’s custodians. “I think it is. Is it as good as what you’ve had? No.”
Wofford said several of the bids from custodial firms were very close, and he examined such things as health insurance out-of-pockets and retirement benefit alternatives before deciding which bidder he thought would do the best job.
“I talked with several custodians to get their concerns,” he said. “I’m impressed with the professional manner in which the custodians have handled this situation.”
Under the new plan, the school district anticipates that Aramark will take over providing custodial services in September.
Jacoby said that while Aramark’s salaries are competitive with other private-sector maintenance outsourcing firms, and the school district’s salaries are comparable with other public school systems, the two salaries are not competitive with one another.
For a head custodian CCSD range is $16 to $23 per hour and the Aramark range is $10 to $12 per hour; for a custodian, the CCSD range is $10 to $18.50 per hour and the Aramark range is $9 to $10.50.
Aramark conducted a market wage analysis to determine competitive private-sector salary ranges for Cherokee County; also, performance-based pay raises are considered by Aramark every January, Jacoby said.
Carey said he has four people working on his staff at a local middle school, and they are very concerned about the upcoming change in employers.
“It’s impossible to inspire existing workers in this situation,” Carey said. “It’s not enough money to live on. This is an ugly mess.”
Carey said if he accepts a contract with Aramark, he figures his own pay will go down approximately $8,000 a year, figuring in a two-month break from work in the summer. He was not including any unemployment collected in that figure, although the understanding, both by Carey and the school district, is that 10-month employees will be able to collect federal unemployment benefits for that period of time.
Carey said, being single and without a mortgage, there is much less strain on his budget than on many of his workers, but he figures he will not be bringing in enough to make ends meet.
He noted that quality of service is reflected in quality of pay and that “when you go to a fine restaurant you get exceptional service; when you go to a fast-food restaurant, you get acceptable service.”
“I want people to realize that we care,” Carey said, telling the story of a situation where the principal of his school determined a child had an extremely infectious disease at 4 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving break. The child had been attending school.
“We donned masks and cleaned everything; everywhere that child could go,” he said. “Every computer keyboard, every urinal, every doorknob, every desk and every locker.”
Carey said the teachers appreciate the custodians and know how hard they work.
Jacoby said the Aramark contract not only calls for employment of the district’s present custodial staff but provides for comprehensive background checks for all employees assigned to CCSD schools and facilities and continued high-quality custodial services for the district.
Carey said his health insurance costs may go down just a little, but insurance differences vary greatly between the two employers, according to coverage choices and number of family members covered.
“The weekly employee health care benefit cost comparison for custodians employed by CCSD versus Aramark is also not an equitable comparison, as both offer benefits competitive for their market (public school system vs. private-sector company) and the types of plans (i.e., HRA, HMO, etc.) offered vary,” Jacoby said. “The CCSD range for 2013 State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) — Cigna Standard for employee-only benefits: $19.97 to $32.85 (weekly) and the Aramark range is $54.55 to $66.73. The estimated CCSD range for 2014 SHBP — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia for employee-only benefits is $15.30 to $38.33.”
Aramark will employ both 12-month and 10-month custodial employees to work in CCSD schools and facilities, she said. She said the percentage of custodians retained for full-year employment will be determined by Aramark’s assessment of its summer staffing needs.
Jacoby said it is the school district’s understanding that Aramark’s 10-month employees who want to retain health care benefits during the two months they are not employed would need to participate in Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), a federal program that gives workers and their families who lose their health an opportunity for a temporary extension of health coverage. Qualified individuals may be required to pay the entire premium for coverage up to 102 percent of the cost of the plan, including the employer portion.
In addition to head custodian and custodian positions, Aramark also informed CCSD custodians at the recent informational meeting that the company will employ three zone supervisors for CCSD custodial services. CCSD custodial employees have been given the opportunity to apply for these jobs, which is an opportunity for advancement currently not available to them within CCSD.
“Once they are Aramark employees, they also will have the opportunity to apply for positions at other Aramark-supported facilities, including higher-level positions,” Jacoby said. “Aramark also will employ a custodial services director for its CCSD employees; that position currently is held by an Aramark employee.”
Jacoby said the school district has been informed that out of CCSD’s current 200 custodial employees, about 160 already have completed applications to work for Aramark, including 22 applications for the new zone supervisor positions.
The external job fair held by Aramark for applicants from the community, also held last week, generated an additional 65 applications, which will be considered for positions that current CCSD employees do not choose to accept.
The company also is investing $650,000 in new custodial service equipment to be used in CCSD schools, Jacoby said.