Union slams Norwalk Board of Ed for ‘secrecy’ on outsourcing

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons
Mike Lyons

NORWALK, Conn. – Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) ripped the Norwalk Board of Education in a Thursday emailed press release, charging the BOE with “shrouding its outsourcing efforts in secrecy.”

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons fired back, saying there has been no secrecy and calling the union’s attempt at involving itself in the process “preposterous.”

Council 4 represents Norwalk school custodians, maintainers and security officers.

The outsourcing was discussed at the June 18 BOE meeting, where some members of the board complained of being “blindsided” by the plan.

At the meeting, Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Manny Rivera said three janitorial vacancies at Columbus Magnet School and three or four vacancies at Jefferson Elementary School will be filled by an outside company. Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl said a company will be selected in a Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

“For those two schools alone it would be $160,000 less than what we currently spend,” Rudl said. “If the entire school district were to be outsourced, which we can’t do because we cannot lay an employee off, it would be close to $2 million in savings.”

According to the union’s Thursday complaint, Norwalk Public Schools Director of Facilities and Maintenance William Hodel conducted a walk-through of Columbus and Jefferson schools on Wednesday, July 16, with representatives from several private contractors interested in bidding on custodial work currently performed by members of AFSCME Local 1042.

Hodel refused to allow union representatives to observe the walk-through because they “were not invited,” the release states, and that the event was a closed meeting. Hodel also told the union to take its complaint to the human resources department, the release said.

“What is the Norwalk Board of Education hiding?” asked Matthew Brokman, legislative and political representative for Council 4, who was present at Columbus School. “Norwalk public schools are not private corporations. The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”

“The BoE sets policy – it doesn’t manage day to day operations of the school system (which would be classic ‘micromanagement’),” BOE Chairman Mike Lyons wrote in a late-night email response. “So the BoE hasn’t been ‘secret’ about building walk-throughs and the like – we literally aren’t involved.”

Brokman was accompanied July 16 by two veteran school employees who are members and officers of Local 1042.

“We intend to take aggressive action to protect the students, the schools and the custodians from the Board’s ill-considered and irresponsible action,” he said.

Union spokesman Larry Dorman said he has a problem with the BOE excluding “public participation” in the process.

“To close the decision-making process is troubling to me,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s insulting to the workers, to the residents and the taxpayers.”

“We’ve seen this play before, aa number of times, unfortunately.”

Lyons said the union has no business being involved in dealings between the schools and outside contractors.

“The administration is carrying out its right to outsource custodial services by attrition, something that had been discussed publicly at multiple board meetings, so the administration hasn’t been ‘secretive,’ either,” Lyons said. “Nor does the union have any contractual or other right to accompany private bidders on walk-throughs. That is a management prerogative and the suggestion that the union should be involved in it is preposterous.”


28 responses to “Union slams Norwalk Board of Ed for ‘secrecy’ on outsourcing”

  1. One and Done

    Like the death throes of a mortally wounded animal.
    Bye-bye AFSCME. Be glad the majority of the parents won’t put two and two together and realize that you’ve basically stolen $20 million from our children over the last decade. Your business model is dead and will never be resurrected. The gravy train is over. Deal with it.

  2. Dave McCarthy

    Living up to the contract, acting on stated plans and saving taxpayer dollars while providing the same or better services are things to be proud of. Congratulations to Mike Lyons and the members of the board who vote in favor of doing the right thing.

  3. John Frank sr

    “Lyons said the union has no business being involved in dealings between the schools and outside contractors.” Is he serious ?
    Why then, pay union dues when union jobs are being eliminated ? Of course the union has business being involved in outsourcing union jobs. The City outsourced union jobs collecting trash, cleaning City Hall, and now they are in the process of outsourcing other custodian’s job. Who will be next, teachers, cops, or firemen ? Lyons comes from a family of builders who happily used union craftsmen, he should know better.

  4. Bill

    The unions are scared that the people in these roles will show how to do a better job for less, exactly what the Norwalk taxpayer needs.

  5. anon

    Hard to keep outsourcing ‘secret’ in Connecticut.

    Strong clear leadership in Lyons.

  6. Intheloop

    This is simple. Some custodians do a good job, but overall the product is terrible. If they had the reputation of doing a bang-up job, then people would fight to keep them. In the end, if you did your job you’d have a job.

  7. LWitherspoon

    @John Franker
    Let me get this straight – you think Union officers should be involved in the process of outsourcing custodial jobs, despite the obvious conflict of interest?
    I suppose you also think it’s ok that Norwalk taxpayers have been overpaying for custodial services to the tune of $2 million per year. Those $2 million per year would pay for 25 teachers.

  8. Oyster

    or half of one accounting error.

  9. Lifelong Teacher

    Some custodians do a good job, I’ve worked with a few. Unfortunately, some do not. Others spend more time out claiming injury than they spend working, and their union defends them til the end. Gotta agree with Intheloop. They have done this to themselves.

  10. LWitherspoon

    Good thing the BoE under Mike Lyons’s strong leadership hired the CFO who discovered the error and implemented procedures to avoid such a thing happening again. I believe that same CFO was hired away by the Westport School System. When was the last time any BoE employee was hired away by Westport?

  11. Disgusted with city of norwalk

    Lyons says the union has no business being involved with school dealings, it involves their future so it is 100% their business. He has no business spending my tax money without me knowing where my money goes! Of course a third party will be less to pay cuz once they get on the schools they’ll do nothing but sit on their butts all day just like they do in the city of Norwalk town hall! You want to save money her rid of a the people at the top who do nothing but get paid the big bucks and the people in central office sitting on their butts and drinking coffee and running their mouths all day! Stop taking away from the schools. You want to privatize, privatize the board. Stop treating the public schools as of they are corporate businesses. You people should be ashamed of yourself and I am tired of you people getting my tax money!

    1. Mark Chapman


      Just a couple of technical corrections: The board is all volunteer, and elected by the citizens. And most City Hall staff is in a union.

  12. Dawn

    I would be so happy if the money saved would be used for the right thing.
    Maybe i am too jaded but i think the saved money would be down the tubes again.

  13. Bill

    I would think there would be much more accountability for the maintenance workers when this is outsourced and the private sector evaluations are done like at most companies, then if work is done by union guys who can’t be fired…just sayin

  14. LWitherspoon

    “Disgusted” appears to have attended the John Mosby School of Factually Bereft Ranting.
    What next, a bigoted diatribe about how Briggs used to be a “black school” and now it has Latinos too?

  15. piberman

    In no other CT City do public unions always demand a say in how BOE management decisions are made. Maybe the City charter should be amended to give City unions a seat on the BOE.

  16. Scott

    Be careful what you wish for. Cheaper doesn’t usually equal better. I’m not an economic college educated genius but since the out sourcing of garbage I’ve asked one basic logical question. If a private company is willing to take over it’s because there’s money to be made. Why can’t the city break even with the current employees. Some where there is the usual fuzzy math to show a savings that may never be realized. Also when you out source you lose control. There will be no city involvement in the hiring process. Who will be working among our children day in and day out for such low wages that allow for the lower price tag. In the same token, shame on the union employees that allowed their work to be devalued by lazy coworkers. Seems a ‘blanket party’ could have straightened them out. Oh, by the way I am a hardworking city employee who is a member of AFSCME but I am also a Norwalker born and breed as well as a homeowner. Before decisions are made people need to consider more than the bottom line. There are always hidden cost, monetarily and other.

  17. Mike Lyons

    John Frank – “’Lyons said the union has no business being involved in dealings between the schools and outside contractors.’ Is he serious?”

    Yes – as long as we abide by our contract with the union (which we will), the union has no role in our choosing a contractor to pick up the work left open by attrition.

    “Lyons comes from a family of builders who happily used union craftsmen, he should know better.”

    True, Lyons Construction was a union contractor. And most likely the contractor(s) that are hired to do custodial work for the schools will also be union contractors (as the City’s contractor for City Hall custodial work is). They’ll just be a union contractor whose employees aren’t paid two to three times the prevailing rate for such work, as our present municipal employees are.

    Scott – “Some where there is the usual fuzzy math to show a savings that may never be realized. Also when you out source you lose control. There will be no city involvement in the hiring process.”

    No fuzzy math here. Many years of City experience with private contracting of custodial services (with unionized employees) show that it costs the City about $1.40 per square foot for services that cost the schools about $3.40 per square foot. Outsourcing doesn’t lose control, it increases control. A poorly performing contractor can be fired easily – try that with even a single poorly performing municipal employee, much less many. And we CAN be involved in the hiring process, and will be – requiring by contract the same background checks, for instance, that we do with employees.

    It bears repeating that no present union custodians can be laid off in this outsourcing, nor can they lose pay, pay raises, or benefits. The contractor will only fill slots vacant because of quits, retirements and the like – the contract is clear that outsourcing is only permitted where no union employee is laid off.

  18. Scott

    I don’t claim to have the knowledge of the operating costs of our school system but it seems like the finger is only being pointed at the labor cost. You would lead me to believe that the difference in wages and benefits is a tremendous ammount. Unless they profit strictly by volume I don’t see where the contractors profit is. That’s why I questioned the math. Where do they make it up? Purchases of supplies? And if they can do it why can’t the city? Maybe it’s more of a management issue. A true break down of costs (labor to laborious etc.) would allow the public a fairer judgement of where the problem lies and maybe stop some of the hatred of organized labor which at it’s base tier are just people looking for a fair living wage and protection abusive management (this is a generalization not necessarily what is happening in Norwalk)

  19. Bill

    @Scott, you are an admirable municipal employee, but some aren’t. Those guys shouldn’t get paid the same as you just because you are part of the same labor organization. They should get paid for how they work and how much they work. You are assuming that the current school custodian wages are fair market, they are not, and that is where you find the huge savings. Plus people at risk of losing their jobs for not performing usually have higher productivity. If you are guaranteed a job because of the union, you don’t tend to give top quality work.

  20. LWitherspoon

    When the City debated outsourcing garbage collection, largely self-interested Union opponents stated that the promised savings would never materialize. They were wrong. After a year of outsourced garbage collection City Budget Director Bob Barron told NoN that the savings are real, and provided figures to back up his claim.
    As a taxpayer I find it offensive that we are paying BoE custodians 2-3 times the prevailing wage for custodial services. Thank you to Mike Lyons and the current BoE for bringing some much-needed fiscal responsibility to Norwalk’s schools.
    How would municipal union employees react to a proposal requiring them to pay 2-3 times more than the prevailing cost for groceries? Safe to say such a proposal would go over like a lead balloon among unions. Yet they cheer enthusiastically for the CT State collective bargaining laws which force taxpayers to do the very same thing when it comes to custodial services.

  21. Scott

    Savings in refuse collection have been realized through the changes of service not strictly through the lower laborious costs. When was the last time you had curb side brush collection? It used to be twice a month every month except June, July and August once a month until first significant snow fall. Also start paying attention to the laborers on your regular collection. How often are they the same? At the wages they pay there is likely a high turn over rate. They are used up a discarded. And none of them will ever be home owners in Norwalk.I am at the cost of almost $5 an hour in wages to pay my taxes. I driive a 15 year old vehicle and sent my oldest daughter to NCC. How am I and fellow employees overpaid. The contractors have a bottom line and a profit margin that the city does not. This is usually met at the detriment to the employees. Organized laborious is a catch 22. Performance based wages are nice in theory management isn’t always honorable. Unionized employees have bad apples that hide behind the system. I don’t have the easy answer but I do believe that there unrealized pitfalls to subcontracting.

  22. LWitherspoon

    “Performance based wages are nice in theory”
    Performance based wages are a fact of life for the vast majority of taxpayers who have at the same time been paying 2-3 times the prevailing rate for custodial services in schools. In fact pay often depends not just on individual performance but on the overall financial health of the business. Tough year? Nobody gets a raise.
    Do you actually know what wages and benefits City Carting offers? Or the amount of savings from reduced brush collection?

  23. Scott

    The loss of servce is now a cost to you as a resident. Did taxes go down when we lost the service? It was move that allowed the savings while maintaining the profit for City Carting. And when the profit starts to decline there will be some kind of spin put on the institution of a solid waste collection fee. Do you remember sanitary sewer before OMI or CHM2HILL or whatever they call themselves now. They’re bleeding money so our fee goes up. How much does it cost to park in this city now? I don’t know because I avoid it which means I don’t patronize the businesses. LAZ needs to maintain their profit. The city will soon eliminate the one ton allowance for brush and solid waste. Will out taxes go down. No. It’s easy to use labor as a scapegoat. And you completely ignored my point of the cost of living in Norwalk. I guess Bridgeport can be our laborious service center. When you live in a town you generally care more about it.

  24. OhNoNorwalk

    Outsource the high paid people at city hall then go after the fire.

  25. Best Response from the Union

    The best response from the union will be to demonstrate that the union-cleaned schools will be cleaner than the privately-cleaned schools. Trying to play upon fears for the safety of the children is not an effective strategy because the BOE will ensure that all contracted employees are thoroughly vetted.

    The schools have had problems with many custodians and with building cleanliness for many years, and the threat of privatization of custodial services has been out there for a long time. Apparently, the union miscalculated the seriousness of the threat; otherwise, it might have pushed its membership to work harder.

    Don’t blame the board of education or any of its administrators for this. Instead, blame those custodians who haven’t cared enough. Custodial union members, now it is up to you. But understand that the private sector custodians are going to be trying hard to prove that they do the better job.

  26. Scott

    That should be the motto of all my union brothers and sister. Do it better with more care and you’ll be more valuable than any subcontractor that can be hired. Turn the word ‘union’ into a positive. And when a fellow member is slacking let them know that they represent a group not just themselves

  27. LWitherspoon

    Not the first time I’ve heard a pro-union individual deploy the false argument that outsourcing saves no money because taxes didn’t go down. As though the cost of garbage collection is the only item that determines our taxes. Nor is it the first time that I’ve heard a pro-union individual claim that any savings came from something other than lower wage and benefit costs, while failing to provide any details to back up the claim. Meanwhile we have hard numbers from City Budget Director Bob Barron, published in NoN, stating that the savings from outsourcing are real. Now the self-interested union argument becomes that the savings might be real today, but over time they will no longer be real. As though this is an argument for ending outsourcing and returning to paying garbage truck drivers $60,000 per year, plus benefits, for five hours of work per day.
    The simple fact is that taxes would have been $1 million higher, or there would have been $1 million in cuts to other services, were it not for outsourcing of solid waste collection.
    I agree with the commenter who suggested that it would be better for Unions to strive to offer a service which is so good that nobody would ever think of outsourcing. I would add that the service must also be competitively priced relative to prevailing market wages. Norwalk is a blue collar town and some taxpayers may be working as non-union custodians themselves. Is it fair to tax those individuals at a higher rate so that the City can pay union custodians 2-3x more than the private market?

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