OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Citing difficulty hiring and retaining employees, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh officials are considering outsourcing its grounds and custodial crews to a private company.
Local Five News first became aware of this early last week when a UW Oshkosh custodian sent us a copy of a letter sent out to university employees announcing that the university was considering this move. It would impact about 100 employees.
University officials said the private company, SSC Services for Education in Tennessee, would offer the UW Oshkosh employees a higher salary (although it’s unclear right now how much higher) and a sign-on bonus. But UW Oshkosh grounds and custodial workers said they’re worried about losing the health and retirement benefits they get from being state employees.
“State employees typically don’t make a wage as high as our counterparts in the public sector, but much better health insurance, much better PTO, much better retirement plans which is the reason many of the employees over the age of 30 are here,” said UW Oshkosh custodian Bob Knudsen.
Knudsen and about 40 others walked around campus on Tuesday afternoon with signs to express their frustration with the possibility that their jobs could get outsourced to a different state. The group made a stop in front of UW Oshkosh’s administration building chanting ‘the people united will never be defeated’ and also walked through a student involvement fair where some people applauded them.
Throughout the day, Knudsen also collected signatures for a petition. Knudsen said that he doesn’t feel like contracting out to a private company will make hiring and retaining employees any easier, which the university cited as a major reason for considering this move.
He also said he takes pride in being a UW Oshkosh employee and that there is a certain level of disconnectedness when an out-of-state company takes over.
“Extracting a profit from a public institution philosophically I find to be an abhorrent concept,” said Knudsen.
“I don’t think taxpayer money and student tuition money should go to a corporation in Tennessee,” said David Siemers who is a UW Oshkosh professor.
An online petition that the group created also said sending tax dollars to an out-of-state corporation isn’t good stewardship of public resources. It also said outsourcing jeopardizes the great work these crews have done to implement their vision of sustainability.
“Let’s work together to find home-grown solutions to the challenges we face in recruitment, retention, and allocation of resources,” writes the creators of the petition. “Other UW schools are doing grounds and janitorial work successfully with state employees. There is no shortage of ideas from the smart and experienced people who work in these areas and their campus friends.”
Local Five News reached out to UW Oshkosh administrators for comment. A university spokeswoman wasn’t able to make anybody available for comment, but did send a statement saying “since UW Oshkosh has not made a decision regarding the proposal to hire an outside company to provide custodial and grounds services to our campuses, commenting on the proposal would be premature.”
The university spokeswoman also said that nobody would be losing their jobs and that all UW Oshkosh grounds and custodial employees would be offered a job with SSC Services for Education.
The spokeswoman said they will make a decision in the next couple of weeks. SSC Services for Education provides services for UW Green Bay, Superior, and Parkside.
University administrators scheduled an information session with grounds and custodial employees on Aug. 25. Knudsen has been critical of the university administration’s transparency during this process.
UW Oshkosh professors joined custodial and grounds crew staff at the rally on Tuesday.
“Well I want to show support to my fellow workers it’s not just that I care about them, but I care about our grounds and the safety here and I don’t think a private company will be as invested,” said David Siemers who is a UW Oshkosh professor and the co-president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
“We’re just trying to jump up and down, wave our arms, and tell chancellor Andrew Leavitt to stop right now we need a better solution,” said Knudsen.
Local Five News reached out to SSC Services for Education for comment, but they didn’t return our email or phone call.
“I want to stay a UW Oshkosh employee, not the employee of a subcontractor,” said Knudsen.
On Monday afternoon, Knudsen and others were at a Labor Day picnic and car show in Oshkosh collecting signatures for their cause. Knudsen told Local Five News that he collected about 80 signatures. The group also created two online petitions which have nearly 650 signatures combined.