GAMBIER — In a surprising turn of events, Kenyon College administration announced it has suspended its negotiations with an outside contractor and will create a community advisory panel to help determine the best direction for the grounds and maintenance workers.
“[Kenyon President S. Georgia Nugent] has decided to create an advisory panel from the Kenyon community to help determine the best path forward as the college considered ways to manage its buildings and grounds in a more efficient and cost-effective manner without the sacrifice of jobs,” said Mark Ellis, news director, in a statement released Monday evening.
The move is supported by the board of trustees executive committee, Ellis added.
“This is good news I’m hoping,” said Bob Smith, president of United Electrical Union 712.
Smith, who was invited to participate on the panel, told the News Monday night he was going to talk to his fellow workers and union members regarding his invitation but feels his participation on the panel would be crucial to communicating the ideas of workers to administration.
“I’m excited about being part of it, and I’m pretty certain the membership will also be,” said Smith. “This panel talks about improving the maintenance department and we have had lots of suggestions in the past about improvement but nobody ever really wanted to listen. So, I’m excited about the fact that they might actually listen to what we have to say this time.”
Smith credits the diligence of the unions and the backing they received from other Kenyon employees, student groups, unaffiliated union members and area citizens to encourage administration to look at other options instead of contracting the jobs out.
“I’ve been really impressed by the community support, and I believe that’s what really turned this around is the community involvement,” Smith said.
In addition to pulling the community together, Smith said this stand of solidarity has helped grow the bond between the two unions affected.
“There are two unions at Kenyon in the maintenance department, one represents the custodial and grounds and the other is the trades. It’s even helped unify both unions, along with the community,” Smith said.
In an invitation to community and college representatives, Nugent said, “While it is a central responsibility of the administration to make decisions — even difficult decisions — concerning employment, it is also desirable in this situation to benefit from the wise counsel of this community.”
Although a list of those invited has not been released, Ellis said those invited represent the board of trustees and administration, elected leaders of the Alumni Council, faculty, PACT (????), Student Council and current maintenance workers. After acceptance has been confirm, the names of the panel will be released.
Ellis said the college expects the panel to finish its work in November. Until then, the college and the union will continue to negotiate a new contract.
The panel is expected to provide recommendations to the administration regarding efficiency and operation of the maintenance department, while “keeping in mind the financial reality in which the college operates.”
Negotiations are scheduled for this morning between the college and the unions, Smith said.
The campus forum scheduled for Friday has been postponed pending the appointment of the advisory panel.