Administrators consider outsourcing maintenance jobs

Ethan Metcalf

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A crowd of about 80 maintenance staff members gathered for a meeting with vice presidents of SSC Support Services and university administrators to discuss the possibility of outsourcing maintenance jobs to the company. Photo by Ethan Metcalf.

A crowd of about 80 maintenance staff members gathered for a meeting with vice presidents of SSC Support Services and university administrators to discuss the possibility of outsourcing maintenance jobs to the company. Photo by Ethan Metcalf.

To combat the university’s ongoing budget woes, administrators revealed this week that they are in negotiations with SSC Service Solutions to outsource the school’s facility services, including custodial, groundskeeping and central plant crews. If approved, the move would affect 94 staff members employed by the university.

Vice presidents of SSC, along with several university administrators, held a meeting Monday with more than 80 staff members to discuss the possibility of outsourcing the jobs.

“MSU has had some budget issues over the last few years, and we’ve been able to weather that with one-time donations, but it’s really eaten into our core mission of academics, so we need to address other options,” said Kyle Owen, associate vice president of facilities services, at the beginning of the meeting.

Marilyn Fowlé, vice president of business affairs and finance, said the university already outsources its dining and bookstore services, mentioning that many universities are looking for more services they can outsource.

“We’re in the business to educate, we’re not in the business to run a bookstore or run a food service,” Fowlé said. “So what other kinds of things are there that companies…could do better and maybe less expensive, and facilities is one of them.”

Fowlé said the move could save the university money because the contracted company would start paying into the retirement of any facilities employees hired after the contract change.

Fowlé said negotiations with SSC began when administrators chose Chartwells as the university’s new food service company, a member of Compass Group North America which also owns SSC.

“In our RFP (Request for Proposal) we also said, ‘Tell us about other things you can do besides food service,’ and they brought up the facilities piece…the financial package they’re going to give us is pretty healthy,” Fowlé said. “There might be some bonus money for us because we’re bringing in another part of their company.”

Few definite answers were given at the meeting as John Lane, regional vice president for SSC, repeated different iterations of the phrase, “this is far from final.”

“We’re just not there yet,” Lane said. “That’s why we’re here today, so we can be transparent with you.”

But with the word “outsourcing” comes fears of layoffs, which members in the audience expressed, but Owen and Fowlé both said everyone is promised a job.

“They make a commitment to us and it’s in the contract. Now, if somebody doesn’t perform, that’s a whole different story, but it will be in the contract that they will take everybody and take them at at least their current pay,” Fowlé said. “That’s why they say we can’t really tell you until we do the contract because, from our perspective, how rich of a transition package do we want them to give our employees?”

Fowlé said outgoing University President Jesse Rogers, known for his fundraising ability, wants to leave a balanced budget for Suzanne Shipley, who will take over as president this August.

“He has a really good fundraising ability because he’s been here for 48 years, so he knows all the big donors,” Fowlé said. “He does not want to burden her, Dr. Shipley, with having to try to fundraise to make sure the budget is balanced in her first year. That’s just not right.”

RELATED: Fine arts custodian one of 94 staff members whose jobs could be outsourced

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