The job security and working conditions of Tufts’ janitorial staff may be impacted by the university’s recent switch in campus-cleaning services from American Building Maintenance (ABM) Industries to UGL Unnico, according to sophomore Liam Walsh-Mellett, co-chair of the Jumbo Janitor Alliance (JJA).
Last semester, Tufts began the process of seeking bids for a new contractor to provide janitorial services for the university. UGL Unicco underbid ABM and was selected as Tufts’ new contractor over the summer.
The decision to solicit bids for a new contractor was prompted by a desire to ensure that the management of the companies remain competitive, according to Vice President for Operations Dick Reynolds.
The switch to a new contractor has not yielded a change in the actual janitorial staff members. The UGL Unicco contract requires that the contractor offer jobs to all the previous ABM employees, according to Vice President for Operations Dick Reynolds.
“Everyone who is a janitor here now was already a janitor,” JJA member junior Elizabeth Shrobe said.
According to Walsh-Mellett, while the contract stipulates that UGL Unicco must hire all previously employed janitors, the company could lay the staff members off a few months down the line for another reason.
“[UGL Unicco] has said that their plan is to reduce costs and lay people off,” Walsh-Mellett said.
Reynolds said he does not know of any plans to lay off any of the current janitorial staff.
No janitors have left to date, Walsh-Mellett said, except for a few workers who had documentation issues. The contract for the current workers will expire next summer, he noted.
According to Reynolds, the contract that exists between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the janitors and maintenance workers at Tufts, and UGL Unicco, is the same as that between SEIU and ABM.
“The compensation and benefits have not changed for any of the employees,” Reynolds said.
Walsh-Mellett is concerned that employee’s wages and jobs may be in danger because of the lower cost of the UGL Unicco contract.
“The fear is that [UGL Unicco] will [lay off janitors] because they’re being paid less by Tufts,” Walsh-Mellett said. “The only way for them to really do that is to either cut back on services, which they’re not going to do, or wages, or people being employed.”
UGL Unicco will implement “performance-based cleaning,” which requires janitors to clean only as needed as a means of cutting costs, according to Walsh-Mellett.
“‘As needed’ means doing the same amount of work because they weren’t doing unnecessary amounts of work before,” he said.
Junior Leah Effron, former co-chair of JJA, said there was initially a great deal of confusion among the janitorial staff about the security of their jobs when the switch took place.
“I think that there was a lack of communication,” she said. “Originally when they heard the contracts were up for bid, [the janitors] were nervous because they didn’t know what that meant,” Effron said.
UGL Unicco had job fairs at each of the three Tufts campuses with translators and human resources employees to assist in rehiring a substantial percentage of the ABM workers, according to Reynolds.
“We are treating the custodial employees as fairly as possible while making sure we get the most efficient work for the university,” Reynolds said.
Shrobe added that JJA will continue to work to preserve the jobs of the current janitorial staff.
“We wanted to hold [UGL Unicco] accountable to keeping these people’s jobs,” Shrobe said. “It would be great to see that they held that promise.”