Norwalk school custodians allege secrecy as they futilely fight outsourcing

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.”

Union supporters and others pack the Norwalk Common Council chambers Tuesday.
Union supporters and others pack the Norwalk Common Council chambers Tuesday.

“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.”


27 responses to “Norwalk school custodians allege secrecy as they futilely fight outsourcing”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    I think the people of Norwalk should privatize the Board of Education and outsource the board members, after all, the truth is this town is suffering from a middle class anemia.
    How do you move up in a society when that society has barbed wire and fences protecting the bottom line?
    What will privatization bring? a reduced budget expenditure? let me ask this; will the board maintain the kind of stop gaps that it has put in place for those who apply for jobs in the Norwalk school system? everyone has a background check done (I would speculate that none of the board had a background done when they sought election to the board), this includes fingerprinting, and there’s diversity workshops.
    Will the contracting organization do this? will they comply with child labor laws? or will the investment firms who own them lawyer up to protect themselves?
    Will Norwalk “hide” behind indemnification should an incident occur?
    A lot of our local people work in these schools, the voice of public opinion holds great sway with them, in fact, those administrators who have to performance review these individuals get a great support from the parents, the community in this regard.
    You let one people step out of line that people of Norwalk know, and believe me, the court of public opinion is far more harsh than anything that the Board, and Jeff Spahr could HOPE to mete out!
    This board “hides” behind making “tough” decision, nonsense, they are taking the easy decision road, naturally.
    There is a drain of good paying middle class jobs in Norwalk, and the reason is clear; the gentrification of this town has created an unpleasant, plastic, and overly insular place to live.
    This is not Beverly Hills folks, this is Norwalk, respect those that work, because the truth is without them, you are nothing.
    Yes, time to outsource the board, and let’s dispense with the Jack Welch model of management, it stinks.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. John Hamlin

    The middle class is embodied in the TAXPAYERS, and the savings through outsourcing will benefit the taxpayers and the students, who should be our highest priority. Private unions are fine, but the public employee unions have a corrupt bargain with our politicians — and it’s time to put taxpayers first and eliminate collective bargaining for public employee unions. Or outsource the work of as many public employees as possible.

  3. One and Done.

    Bye Bye AFSCME. Be glad most parents won’t pay attention to the fact you’ve been stealing millions from this school district for decades. I bet the schools will be clean now too.

  4. Casey Smith

    “I am worried that if a contractor comes in and does the maintenance in our schools, who will take care of the children?”
    “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.
    Wow! And here I thought that the care of the students was primarily based in the hands of the teaching staff and administration rather than the janitors! I had absolutely no idea janitors were now acting as social workers in the schools. I guess I had it all wrong! Where are they getting their degrees from?

  5. peter parker

    The destruction of unions is a large step toward the continued destruction of the middle class and it’s pay scale. Unions were formed with good reason, without them most Americans would still be working for $2 bucks an hour and in horrible working conditions. This City and the BOE should be ashamed!

  6. Oldtimer

    You know, outsourcing the BOE might not save much money, but the arguments against it would be interesting to hear. If saving money is the goal, why not start with the BOE ?

  7. One and Done.

    @oldtimer. FYI. The members of the BOE are unpaid volunteers. Please enlighten us as to how you would save money, genius.

  8. Oldtimer, the BoE already is ‘outsourced’ — those of us on it who devote hundreds of hours of our time to improving education for our children, as volunteers, get paid nothing for doing so. If you can find a lower expense than zero, let’s hear it!

  9. Kathleen Montgomery

    One and Done: Your nasty attitude and derogative comments in your posts do any point you have a disservice. And, no I am not going to reply to your nastiness on your post to this comment.

  10. One and Done.

    @Kathleen. So you responded to me saying you are not going to respond to me. Sounds like more AFSCME logic. Truth cuts deep, don’t it?
    It will be nice to have clean schools again. Hopefully the board is smart enough to not collocate the newly accountable resources with the AFSCME holdouts, who will obviously try to sabotage their work. All for the kids, of course.

  11. Lifelong Teacher

    Shular’s statements are absurd. I have been working in this system for 25 years. School custodians don’t talk to students or do outreach. They aren’t social workers. If we’re lucky, they are cleaning the schools. Some do a decent job, some don’t.

    Many of us bring in our own vacuums, steam mops, paper towels and cleaning supplies because classrooms, including student desks and chairs, and school offices, are filthy. We do it do keep children from getting sick. Sorry but once a year during the summer just doesn’t cut it. We scrub our own sinks because they won’t do that either. Certain protected union members spend more time out on cycles of bogus injuries than they do working. It’s hard to muster sympathy.

  12. MPayne

    Why can’t we all just get along? This is looking like a bad episode of MAURY!

  13. SayWhat

    What r u gonna do Mayor when Peter Thor. Speaks up against Bd. of Ed. To prevent privatisation.?
    Imagine u will proffer u have no authority over them, to try to ensure ur sooport from afscme

  14. John Hamlin

    The notion that the public employee unions are protecting the middle class is laughable. Private unions, I think that’s fine. But public unions are bankrupting out state and our municipalities — and sucking the lifeblood out of middle class taxpayers. Public employee unions don’t raise anybody’s compensation except their members — and that costs taxpayers a boatload. Can you spell Detroit?

  15. LWitherspoon

    AFSCME professes simply to care about the kids. If that’s so, why do they only show up at Board of Ed meetings for their own self-interest?

  16. Scott

    I am fully offended by the generalization of unionized municipal employees. Most of us show up to work everyday and complete our assignments to the best of our abilities. The portrayal of us as leaches on society is unfair. I pay my taxes in this town just like everyone else. Well maybe nit everyone else. How many of your neighbors illegally register their vehicles out of state to avoid property tax. I’ve seen this on some high end vehicles. So before you look at people like me as thieves sucking off the taxpayer’s teeth you need to look at yourselves and hour friends.

  17. The Truth

    Custodians at Mr. Shuler’s school don’t counsel students, nor should they. His school has excellent counselors, a fine school social worker, a great school psychologist, a wonderful school-based health center clinical social worker and a very effective school nurse.

    The custodians are the first to remind people of what isn’t in their job description, and in such cases, they then refuse to do the work. I assure everyone that student outreach is not in a custodian’s job description. Attempting to use it as leverage in this labor dispute is dishonest.

    As for the lack of transparency, custodians have been threatened for years with the possibility of privatization, so where is the surprise here? They are in this bind because too many of the custodians don’t do enough to keep the buildings clean and in good repair. It is unfair to characterize all custodians this way, and I don’t mean to do that, but there have been longstanding issues that the board of education has finally addressed.

    As for losing jobs, no custodian is losing his/her job; the privatized staff will fill only vacancies. However, the union is losing dues-paying members, and it will miss the income. The union should have thought of this years ago and it should have done something then to get its members to take their responsibilities more seriously.

  18. LWitherspoon

    I don’t believe I have generalized municipal employees as layabouts. If I somehow gave that impression, I am sorry. My concern is more that taxpayers are paying significantly more than levels in the private sector, and in many cases the state’s collective bargaining rules effectively leave us with no choice but to continue doing so. A non-union janitor making private-sector wages in Norwalk has to pay more in taxes to subsidize a lucky few union school custodians who make double what she does. Is that fair?

  19. unwise to privatize

    Look at surrounding towns in Connecticut and see what has happened when custodial positions have been privatized. No background checks on employees, Work release programs who employ convicts entering our public schools. It is happening all over the state, just pick up a newspaper. These public employees are hard working middle class people who do a service to the community day in and day out. When decent jobs are taken away from our cities and towns a break down will sadly occur. Be smart and protect your children.

  20. One and Done.

    @Scott. You should be fully offended by your union reps that stick up for lousy workers. If your brotherhood would let the taxpayers fire the bad eggs, I think you’d find us more than happy to pay the productive at or even higher than market rates. A healthy organization is allowed to cut out the deadwood. If you don’t you get a festering, hostile work environment where people do the minimum. It isn’t sustainable and this move is the first of many to come if your slackers don’t pick it up.

  21. One and Done.

    @unwise to privatize. Ok, let’s see what cost more…a $75 background check, a $400 physical, and some recruiting costs…..or tens of 1000s of days of disability pay, sick pay, stolen equipment, having to hire contractors to replace light bulbs, etc…

  22. Scott

    LWitherspoon I appreciate your apology. It felt sincere. Everyone seems hung up on the wages municipal employees make because they are guaranteed by a contract. These employees don’t walk off the street and achieve ftpp pay. We all had to start at the bottom. 17 years ago I started at $14 an hour which was only $1.50 more than I was making in my private sector job that also included a monthly sales commission. Not a huge jump. It took significant time for me to reach my current wage. My question to you and everyone else is if my wage increase was not guaranteed but instead merit based and I was a valuable employee that had earned it, would everyone still have a problem? I don’t know the ins and outs of the custodians’ job but I would venture to guess that there are a good number of them that would make their same wages in a merit based system. It is also a myth that union employees cannot be fired. Get caught stealing materials or time or making fraudulent compensation claims and you will be terminated and lose everything. Just ask the previous scale operators from the transfer station. It does happen. We are payed a fair wage for what we do and I atleast am thankful everyday for my job which I do not take for granted

  23. spanner

    Wouldn’t it be Norwalks politics or tragic to see the same company from the Maritime Aquarium replace the school workers .Tragic part is not finding it out until after the elections.

    All these years having the kids go thru Norwalk schools never did I see a problem with workers in fact I depended on them to look out for my kids when I wasn’t there.Why was that?I knew them for years and called them all friends.

    I’m sorry if I missed it but what does Rilling have to say? We are talking mandated reporters correct?Any Mayor should be concerned we have in place people who can communicate with our schools when it comes to security and not have a questionable character themselves.Switching day labor at the lanfill is ok but shouldn’t we be seeking more for our kids,or is money an issue kids or not?

    Key holders mean having schools with people in place to respond to a closed school for any type of emergency in the past this has not always been the case in the past .I realize the fire dept has lock boxes that doesn’t help when you have an open window,water flow etc. and need school officials. Are we now to understand that outsourcing also means giving the key to our schools to someone other than a city employee?

    Has this issue even been talked about?

  24. Don’t Panic

    Those are two very good points. Mandated reporting and key holders. I wonder if the minutes or the packets will show those issues were covered and so became non-controversial.
    People who are disparaging these workers for providing informal social support for the kids either never had a rough school experience or fail to remember their own.
    kids in need of support can connect with adults in unexpected ways. It is clear that these dedicated workers are doing so.
    while it is possible that the new lower paid contact workers will be as valuable, it is unlikely. This flies in the face of conservative arguments that hard work gets rewarded. If these new contact workers we to remain in place and get raises over time for excelling in their jobs, they would just get replaced by another company to stay the cycle again

  25. spanner

    2 hours after I posted my comment Brookside school was found open and alarm was tripped according to todays police log so yes this does happen all the time in Norwalk schools.Odd how a open door at a school can draw almsot as many cruisers as a party boat.This means our police dept takes it seriously folks.

    I know this might sound bad but my kids learned how to sweep a floor at one of the schools,yes there was probably a ice cream sandwich involved but they learned respect and never destroyed public property.I’m sure people can find a problem with this but a broom wasn’t a foreign object to my kids and I have Manny to thank.

    Maybe the kid or kids at Brookside could find a broom and a trustworty devoted employee as well.

    @don’t panic kids in need of support can connect with adults in unexpected ways I agree 100 percent what better people could the city find than those who are part of the team.

  26. One and Done.

    Scott. The transfer station crew got to keep their pensions and didn’t do a day of jail time. The woman in the clerk’s office will likely get to keep hers too. Silence on the firefighters stealing equipment too. Using a school credit card to buy stuff for your plane and you get a letter of recommendation. These are just a few recent examples, so please spare us the nonsense that municipal workers have the same level of accountability.

  27. Scott

    One and done I don’t know where you get your information from but as far the general membership of local2405 knows those workers are not receiving their pension. They may have been returned their contributions from over the many years in a one time pay back but as far as I know they do not receive a monthly benefit. It is also sad that that was the only point from my post that you wished to address. Would you care to answer my question or is simply easier to deflect it and change the subject.

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