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Kean University workers question outsourcing maintenance positions

By Eric Haftel
On September 29, 2011

  • Union workers protest outsourcing of maintenance workers at Kean.
  • Union workers protest outsourcing of maintenance workers at Kean.

Kean University maintenance workers and members of the Kean Federation of Teachers protested in opposition to the outsourcing of workers to private contractors in an attempt to convince university administrators to keep local workers.

More than 30 people came out on Sept. 12 in support of unionized work on campus.  They held signs such as, "You can't outsource quality" and "You can't privatize safety safely."

"What the hell is going? Why is the university privatizing?" said Steve Pinto, chapter president of Local 195, a union that represents Kean maintenance and security workers.

Pinto, who has worked at Kean for the past 30 years, said New Jersey fingerprints and carries out background checks, but it is unknown if they do the same for contractors.

"Also, Kean employees have ID badges. People don't know who the contractors are," he said.

The university currently has contracts with Meridian services where employees are brought in on a need basis.

"The advantage to Meridian is we bring in [them] when we need [them]," President Farahi said. "The thing that needs to be recognized is that we have some extremely sophisticated facilities now that require a different type of maintenance. We made the offer to hire hourly workers and they said they were not interested."

Farahi addressed the concerns at the Board of Trustees meeting that followed the picketing. Farahi asked Vice President of Operations, Phillip Connelly if the contracted workers are qualified to work at Kean.

"Are the Meridian people qualified by the state of New Jersey to work for us? Do they work for other state agencies? Are they union members? Do we pay union wages?" Farahi asked. Connelly responded to all of these with yes.

But Kathleen Hernandez, vice president of CWA Local 1031, said when Kean started contracting with Meridian the number of unionized workers decreased.

"Last year CWA had a meeting with Kean concerning this growing change," Hernandez said.  "We were told that the subcontractors would be working on special projects. This is not the case. The subcontractors are on campus Monday to Friday and are being utilized for everyday maintenance work."

A contract acquired through the Open Public Record Act shows that the university is spending nearly $2 million for work that could be done at the same quality for just $500,000 by 195 members.

With concerns over campus safety and wasteful spending of money James Castiglione, president of the KFT, said the campus workers are critical to university operations and form a stable workforce.

"This outsourcing affects all of us because it is a threat to quality, safety and campus security," Castiglione said. "The folks who literally keep the lights on and the rooms clean and safe are long-term employees who know the campus, its operations and, most importantly, its people."

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