Janitors Fight For Their Jobs Among Overwhelming Odds

Over the last year, the number of Michigan-based in-house janitors to receive their walking papers has drastically increased. The reason is a growing trend towards outsourcing of jan/san departments within public schools.

In light of deep budget cuts, school board members are tasked with making the difficult decision of eliminating the in-house staff in favor of a lower cost outsourced crew. The shift in services reportedly has nothing to do with the existing cleaning as much as it has to do with the associated cost and keeping familiar faces inside schools no longer has the pull it use to.

Even with overwhelming support from the community, janitors are losing their fight to keep jobs in-house. The reason has a lot do with the fact that in-house workers tend to carry a higher salary and benefits than an outsourced crew, putting strain on tight budgets. Many managers of contracting services will also argue that they provide superior services because they are always going to be compared to their competition and cleaning times and efficiencies must exceed expectations to maintain the account.

Although there might be some truth to this, community members and cleaners alike are frustrated with the decision from school board members to outsource. Reportedly, the recent decision blindsided both cleaning crews and community representatives, causing anger and frustration. Workers argue that they would have considered pay cuts or at least should have been allowed to compare existing cleaning specs to those proposed by incoming contractors.

I understand that business is business, but I can’t help but wonder that if school board members are so willing to dismiss their in-house team, when will they start cutting back on actual cleaning to save a dollar?

Click here and here for recent articles focusing on Michigan schools. For information on how to keep outsourcing at bay, click here.

  • The time has come. Accountability for in-house support services is now front and center due to outsourcing.

    (Full disclosure: I'm a sales & marketing consultant for janitorial contractors. But I'm not solely on the contractors side. Read on.)

    When the purpose of an in-house support service (like custodial, or Information Technology for that matter) is no longer being served as well as it could from another source, it's time to rethink options.

    Outsourcing is an option.

    The last decade has seen outsourcing enter K-12 education, but it's been rather slow. The politics were too dicy. But now the current recession has leap frogged much of that and may make school districts jump to outsourcing imprudently, rather than through careful consideration for everyone involved (ie school districts first working with their in-house custodial to lower costs).

    That said, many custodial programs are a legacy. They're from a time when local taxes financially supported high custodial wages and benefits. Unfortunately that's not the world today, re: GM, etc.

    Now, in-house services have to/should justify the value they deliver against the resources spent.

    Demonizing outsourcing is not going to make it go away. Nor should in-house services all be outsourced.

    I believe the conversation and focus should be on how best to serve the customer (whether the server is in-house or outsourced).

    Your excellent article "Fighting the Good Fight" was spot on for points 1 through 4. It showed what in-house services must do to ensure their survival. But not all custodial departments are that flexible, responsive or creative - and those are the ones that will be outsourced.

    I disagree with point 5 in that article about presenting negatives against contractors. From a sales stand point you should never try to discredit your competitors. Only point out your unique and valued benefits you deliver. Some sales trainer once said "When you're slinging mud, you're only losing ground".

    I hope all service employees (in-house or contractors) increase their wages and benefits. Because that means the service proposition is valued.

    Unfortunately, all those employees must rely on their leadership to lead. For the fortunate employees with pragmatic, open-eyed leaders, such as those in your article, they have a better chance of keeping their jobs during the transformation that's underway from a legacy model to a current, value-based service.

  • When you bring in a cleaning service, some are not trustworthy, instead of in-house cleaners that people trust and know.  Sometimes saving money isn't the best

  • Out sourcing not always the key rethinking in house and some adjustments keep it in house

  • Interestingly enough, when the cleaning crew is outsourced, the same folks usually come to work in the facility, they've just had a drastic pay cut. Ironically, the cleaning staff is usually comprised of local folks, paying taxes to the public entity they serve.

    When replaced by a contractor, there is a profit motive, and those profit dollars removed from the local economy are now sent to a for-profit firm located "somewhere else". In rural areas "somewhere else" usually means "out of state"....leaving the now poorer locals to fend for themselves, all under the guise of "saving" money..haha.

  • I personally have run into issues with the too frequent employee roll-over within the outside service contractors which I have been familiar with.  Each new face is then trained by another worker, and not always to the extent they should... In-house workers have my personal vote.  We may need to shake things up from time to time to be sure that we are getting our money's worth and that long term employees don't get complacent and well, less industrious?  But I believe it adds security and quality.  When some workers are only getting a few bucks an hour, they care about quality WAY less than the in-house workers that would get a decent benefits package.  If they get fired, "temps" could just walk a few blocks over to the next temp. agency / outside service cleaning company and put in an application.