GAMBIER — Members of UE Local 712, maintenance workers at Kenyon College, were shocked Tuesday when they went into a meeting they thought was for the purpose of discussing their contract, which expires June 30. Instead, they were handed a proposal from Kenyon representatives informing the union the college intends to contract out the work currently being performed by the carpenters, electricians, plumbers, utility workers, helpers, painters, mechanics and locksmiths who belong to the skilled trades union.
“We were really blind-sided,” said union president Robert Smith. “We were expecting to bargain for a new contract and this was sprung on us. This outside contractor, Sodexo, we were told, will hire us, recognize the union and our wage scale, but we couldn’t get any specifics as to how long that will last.”
An announcement posted on the college’s website states: “Sodexo will hire the supervisors and administrative employees now employed by Kenyon in the maintenance department.” It does not mention the 23 skilled tradesmen who belong to the union.
Asked why it does not mention the workers, Mark Kohlman, chief business officer for Kenyon, said, “The workers are in a union and we are in the middle of negotiations with them, that started on Tuesday so I cannot really comment on their status.” He did confirm that when Sodexo takes over, the workers will no longer be actual Kenyon employees.
“We have members who have worked here for 20, 27 and even more than 40 years,” said Local 712 vice president Bob Wilson. “We’ve had generations of families that worked here. Now the door is slammed in our face.”
“All you ever hear at Kenyon is community,” said Smith, “and how much everyone is a part of that community and valued. That meeting Tuesday left us realizing we’re not part of that community.”
Kenyon’s announcement states: “Management by Sodexo will enable the college to provide better care of the physical plant and will give employees the tools they need to carry out their jobs more effectively.”
Kohlman said the resources and support that Sodexo will bring to the table will be valuable to the college. “We’ve struggled with outdated and antiquated work order systems and quality assurance systems,” he said. “Those are things we haven’t had the resources to invest in. The partnership with Sodexo will bring those tools to campus to better manage our facilities in the long run.”