NORWALK, Conn. – Futile pleas were made Tuesday by Norwalk custodians and their supporters against a move by the Norwalk Board of Education to hire an outside company to clean the Columbus and Jefferson Magnet schools.
Those pleas were accompanied by accusations of a less-than-transparent process.
After listening to comments made at Tuesday’s BoE meeting, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said the plan would proceed. This was in spite of claims made by Director of Policy and Planning at Council 4 AFSCME Peter Thor that the move is part of an attack on the American middle class, concerns expressed by a mother about the children’s safety, and assertions made by the custodians that they look out for the children, that “outsiders” won’t do that.
AFSCME Local 1042 President Stanley Shular said before the meeting that the plan had snuck up on union members, despite their attempts to find out what was going on.
“Bunch of rumors, nobody gave us any answers,” Shular said in a press conference. Meetings were arranged and at least four BoE members didn’t know what was going on, he said.
“They are trying to take our jobs without talking to us,” he said.
Lyons has said only unfilled positions will be outsourced, and no current employees would lose their jobs.
State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) spoke in support of the union members. “We do need to have transparency. We do need to have basically an inclusion of AFSCME at the table talking about contractual issues and really working together in this because, really, if that doesn’t happen then you guys lose your place in line. You lose your opportunity to negotiate on behalf of yourself, which is your right,” Perone said.
Perone is fighting to be re-elected as he is being challenged by Common Councilman David Watts, who became the endorsed candidate for the seat when he won the caucus this spring. Perone has the endorsement of the union. Watts attended the BoE meeting but did not speak.
“We do more than just clean toilets,” Shular said to the board. “We work with kids, we outreach service here, we do a lot for the community. … They don’t respect us as a union. We just clean toilets and whatever. We do more than just that.”
Susan Matthews said she is a mother with questions and concerns. “I am worried that if a contractor comes in and does the maintenance in our schools, who will take care of the children?”
Norwalk employees are “pretty well vetted, I hope,” she said. She wanted to know who would be in charge of vetting outsourced employees.
“I am not really comfortable with strangers coming in to the schools. … I think that when you are talking about privatization, the contractors, they want to keep costs low so they can have profits high,” Matthews said. “What’s not in the contract will be, I think – they won’t want to do what is not in the contract. So therefore the money that you are saving will go out the window. So what is the safety of my child? What is that worth? Is it worth $50,000? Is it worth $100,000? So I would also like to speak as a taxpayer. I am worried about that. I am worried about this hidden details that will cost more in the end.”
“I hope you have heard what the people of Norwalk are telling you,” Thor said. “I have been at the bargaining table most of my life and there have been times when there is something rational, where the private sector can be brought in. For example, if Norwalk needed to build a bridge and it doesn’t have bridge engineers you bring in a private engineer. There are some rational times to bring in somebody from the private sector, but I reject it when it doesn’t make good sense. Here it makes no sense at all.”
Thor said that claims made by board members that outsourcing will save money are morally questionable and a strategic error.
“We are trading good middle class jobs for jobs that pay so poorly that workers qualify to food stamps, at our expense,” Thor said. “… Our great middle class will not be dismantled by one swift blow but by little cuts like this.”