This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB works to improve maintenance

Plan would return to system where all custodial workers are UB employees

Published: April 6, 2006

Assistant Vice President

The university administration is developing a proposal to improve the maintenance and appearance of campus buildings that calls for a return to a structure where all custodial workers would be UB employees.

Michael F. Dupre, associate vice president for university facilities, said the plan would involve an increase in the university's investment in building maintenance and, in turn, a corresponding increase in the wages and benefits paid those who maintain its buildings.

Dupre said that a year ago, as part of the UB 2020 strategic-planning process and as the result of focus groups consistently identifying the aesthetics of campus grounds and buildings and building maintenance as issues of high concern, James A. Willis, interim executive vice president for finance and operations, asked his unit to formulate alternative budget strategies to improve the appearance and maintenance of campus buildings.

The proposal under development would reverse a plan, begun in 1993, in which the maintenance of UB's buildings has increasingly become the responsibility of employees of private companies that are awarded contracts by the university based on state low-bid procedures.

Dupre noted that under that plan, the maintenance of new buildings has become the responsibility of the companies, as have individual custodial positions previously held by UB employees that have opened as the result of attrition. Dupre estimated that currently about 75 custodial positions are retained by UB employees represented by CSEA Local 602, while from 130-140 have been outsourced to one of four companies with custodial contracts with UB.

He said those companies have been challenged in maintaining UB buildings because they have problems attracting and retaining qualified individuals because of salaries tied to the prevailing wage for Buffalo-area for custodial workers determined by the State Labor Department.

As a result, he noted, the companies have experienced high turnover rates for positions at UB—in some cases as high as 300 percent in a year—and some have had to cancel their contracts with the university.

The state Labor Department's prevailing hourly wage for janitorial workers for Erie County is the lowest in New York State—$7.03, inclusive of benefits, Dupre said. In comparison, the prevailing wages for Albany and Syracuse are $11.02 and $11.53, respectively. Even the prevailing wage for Niagara County—at $8.09—is higher than that for Erie County.

Under the new plan being developed, he explained, the university would hire a private custodial management firm that would provide the campus custodial program, including equipment and supplies, as well as train and supervise custodial workers who would be UB employees and members of CSEA Local 602.

Dupre said the plan would be transitioned in over a period of two to three years as contracts of current cleaning companies with which the university contracts expire. He said the university intends to honor its contracts with the four companies.