New Negotiations In Worker Struggle

On Feb. 10, 2010, protesters spoke out about various issues, from financial aid to the defense of the Irvine 11. Also broached was the issue  regarding custodial workers contracted by UC Irvine from the company ABM Industries. The protestors and labor organizers demanded fair pay for workers and an end to discriminatory hiring practices.

On April 28, Vice Chancellor of Administrative and Business Services Wendall Brase sent an e-mail to the UCI community regarding a decision reached by the Facilities Management Department at UCI that will give all custodial workers contracted through ABM Industries priority in applying for positions ranging from the janitorial staff for the Student Center to recycling efforts. As a result, ABM’s custodial workers will see changes in employment pay scale.

Director of Facilities Management Mark Gomez was pleased with the progress made.

“UCI understands and recognizes that it’s important for custodial staff to have comparable salaries and benefits to other UCI staff. Our Chancellor as well as others have been in favor of insourcing for a while, for financial reasons. For the custodians, there is better pay and benefits,” Gomez said.

Despite support from the University administration, the project was by no means inexpensive.

“There is added cost to the University, and there is an operational impact – there’s about 100 custodians, so it takes some planning to do that properly, to be able to absorb the added costs, and also bring the 100 custodians in,” Gomez said.

Interim Director of Administrative & Business Operations at Facilities Management Samara Larson, provided more details on the impact of this decision.

“The major differences in the cost are because the contractor provides all of the equipment at this time – we do not own any of the equipment,” Larson said.

Additionally, there is the issue of raising pay and increasing benefits. An addition of 100 new employees to the UCI payroll would mean more strains to the budget.

“When you’re sitting here trying to add costs in one area with reduced budgets, it makes it a challenge,” Gomez said.

According to both Director Gomez and Interim Director Larson, Facilities Management will cope with the additional costs by spreading out the hiring of workers in groups over a period of three years. The costs could be absorbed slowly and cause minimal tension to the budget.

They also made another decision that might surprise those who have voiced concern over the pay rates of the custodial workers.

“All of the employees, even though they are ABM employees, are being paid a higher raise rate equivalent to what they would make if they were [a] UCI employee, even though they are not our employees now,” Larson said. “We are already trying to absorb some of that impact. Right now, this year, we’ve increased all of their wages to be equivalent to what the UCI staff rate would be.”

Larson also revealed that these talks have been in progress for at least five years.

“We’ve been working on this for quite a long time. I think these plans have been several years in the making if not longer,” Larson said.

With a project of this magnitude, the time was needed to ensure that the employee movement would be as smooth as possible.

Perhaps an even greater achievement is that this insourcing movement is the last large movement required for Facilities Management to have a predominantly in-house staff.

According to Larson, the most recent movement was that of the groundskeepers.

“About two and a half years ago we brought in-grounds, which was the only other significant area that was outsourced. We did that a couple of years ago, and we went through a similar thing where there was a cost to us with wage and benefit increases,” Larson said. “This is the last area where we have any sort of significant amount of people on an outsourced. This will be the last effort to bring a large number of people in house.”