GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

June 23, 2011

Union eyes bid for city contract

Custodial workers to seek 'privatized' deal

By Steven Fletcher
Staff Writer

Nineteen custodians were dropped from the city payroll for the new fiscal year, alongside 29 municipal and school employees, when the City Council gave its formal approval to Gloucester's fiscal 2012 budget Tuesday night.

But some city officials say there's already a chance the custodians may be back.

The city wants to privatize much of the custodial work in the upcoming fiscal year. The move, if successful, will save at least $400,000 from the Public Works budget, according to Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Department of Public Works Director Michael Hale.

It requires two contracts, one for several city buildings, and another for the O'Maley Middle and the Gloucester High schools. And both contracts, Hale said, will head out for bid this week to private cleaning and custodial services — and with the current custodial worker's union, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Union President Bernard Cranston, a city custodian, said Wednesday the union will put in a bid to handle the private contract. AFSCME, said Hale, received a draft of the city's request for proposal documentation, and the two final requests will head out in the next few weeks.

"We are looking to put a bid in," said Cranston.

Jim Duggan, the city's chief administrative officer, said the city was open to the union's bid from the start of the privatization move.

"They should and they have the right to (bid)," said Hale, "It will be a difficult task for them, but we encourage them to do so."

The initial budget plan, included in the mayor's budget proposal, would have cut 24 of the Public Works' custodial workers from the city payroll, while shifting the custodial responsibilities to a private company.

But it provided a custodian at each of the elementary schools, and the revised 2012 budget places a maintenance person at the high school and middle school to oversee privatized services.

The custodial budget and the move to privatization re-ignited debate at the council's budget approval meeting Tuesday night. Initially, Councilor Bruce Tobey moved to shift money from the unemployment account and the outsourcing budget line items into the budget line for custodial staff — a move that, City Financial Officer Jeff Towne said, would fall nearly $400,000 short of funding all 19 custodians.

Tobey's amendment failed to pass on a 4-4 vote, with Greg Verga abstaining. But Tobey then raised the possibility of a union bid to cover the custodial services, noting that — during one of his terms as mayor — he undertook a similar process with the city water department in the 1990s.

He said the union could put together a bid that, with concessions, could come in stronger than private services.

"It's not that the union starts a company," said Tobey, "but rather the union coordinates a structure of how the city employees would continue to do the work."

In addition to the middle and high school, the city will privatize custodial work at several city buildings, including the Public Works offices, and the police station. City-paid custodians will return next year to the Sawyer Free Library, Rose Baker Senior Center and City Hall.

In the meantime, officials emphasized that the city won't leave the buildings without cleaning staff.

While the proposal requests are being submitted and resolved, the city will extend its current supplemental cleaning service's contract for work in the high school and middle school until August.

Hale said the city hopes to have a new contract in place by August, but acknowledged that the city may hire a cleaning service from the state's bidding list for city buildings when the contract closes down, and if a new agreement is not in place.

Hale said Wednesday that the city is looking for a professional, bonded custodial contractor that's handled projects the size of the city's cleaning needs. He added that the company would be required to carryout criminal record checks for its employees. The custodial contractor will also be required to supply day coverage for the buildings as well, and should not offer significantly different coverage than the current custodians, he said.

"We're looking for a company that's done this kind of work successfully," he said.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.