GAMBIER — Public feedback, all in opposition of a proposed outsourcing, was heard from Kenyon College faculty, staff and students Wednesday evening in a panel meeting at Higley Auditorium. It was the eighth meeting of the Maintenance Management Advisory Panel, formed to study the maintenance needs of Kenyon College and give recommendations to the college administration.
This was the first panel meeting made available to the public which allowed for much discussion on the controversial topic.
Leading the discussion at the forum was panel chairman Larry James, who announced that on Sept. 27, the panel voted to recommend that members of the college’s labor unions “remain Kenyon employees for the foreseeable future.” A letter sent to the administration stated, “The MMAP has recommended that Local 712 — United Radio Machine Workers of America and The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge No. 2749 not be outsourced.” Both of these contracts expire in 2014.
“This is not final,” James assured the audience. “We made a recommendation to the president, and the president, with her senior staff, will decide what she wants to do. I’d be surprised if she went contrary to that recommendation.”
Options the college now has, according to James, is to do nothing or outsource to the standpoint that there is some hybrid or relationship that the employees would still have with the college in terms of benefits, compensation and job security. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next two years,” said James. “Anybody that says they do know is kidding you.”
Despite this recommendation from the panel, much concern from the public was voiced during the forum. James was asked from a member of the audience what persuaded the panel to reverse the decision made by the administration. “I don’t know I would say that we reversed it,” said James. “This was a very divisional-type issue. But when we looked at the two unions and the total recommendation of outsourcing, the total amount of savings and what we needed to do to improve our maintenance operation. I think the panel did not think it was all there at this level.”
James referred to similar outsourcing options pursued at Oberlin College and Wabash University. “They looked at management, not the labor force; and they ended going for about three years and then started pulling the employees back into [Oberlin]. They had gotten the savings they were going to get out of the relationship of partnering. What that has told us we really need to figure out how to train, how to get the right tools to implement ... and that may take us a little while to do that. And if the savings are no longer there, then you bring your employees back in.”
As much as the panel had discussed savings as a goal, MMAP member Jamie Keller stressed that best practice was the top goal. “The key issue is not savings,” said Keller. “The key issue is how do you get a team of managers and workers, whether unionized or not, working their utmost to serve the community. What we found was that there is a shortcut to this and that may be to outsource everything and put everybody into the same training program. The decision not to go for the shortcut had a lot to do with the best way to get the best practice.”
A resounding applause was heard when the panel was asked why maintenance personnel were not consulted prior to making the initial decision. “There was a mistake made in the communication,” said James. “It was wrong. Communication was poorly done. Although the strategic analysis was pretty good, I would say there were some flaws. I would have done it differently.”
Looking at reasons why the outsourcing was considered in the first place, MMAP member Fred Baumann said, “We found that there were a lot of things that weren’t working as they should. We were told that from top to bottom. We’re trying to look ahead to figure out what’s the best way to do this.” Saying that he was speaking for himself, “If it can be avoided, outsourcing in any form, if we could bring somebody in for a while to do it and do it well, that’s what I want to see happen. If there is no other alternative but to do this by means of some type of hybrid partnership, or outsourcing managers, then I’ll settle for that. That is the situation that we’re in now,” said Baumann.
Former head of maintenance Tom Lepley spoke up in support of the maintenance personnel, stating there have always been good workers in this department. “We need to zero in on what caused some of the problems to begin with,” said Lepley. “A lot of it is communication between the workers, the supervisors and the administrators. The communication and the ideas have to go in both directions. There are a lot of great ideas out there, and a lot of dedicated people that do a good job.”
James stated that Kenyon College has reached a crossroads where things need to improve and change. “If things are truly happening in the depths that you say, then you have a fiduciary obligation to contact one of us. We have a collective responsibility. So if management or administration is having certain issues, shoot us an e-mail,” he said. “Rest assured, your voice is being heard.”
The panel has two additional meetings scheduled meetings for Oct. 16 and 24, prior the November deadline for decisions from the administration.
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