Guilford College Faculty Plan Solidarity Action After Layoffs
Greensboro, NC – On Sat., May 5, in conjunction with the Guilford College annual commencement ceremonies, members of the Guilford College community will participate in actions to express concern over a recent administrative decision to outsource all 18 members of the housekeeping staff to WFF Facility Services, starting on May 7, 2018.
Housekeeping was notified of this decision on Wednesday, April 11. All of the housekeeping staff, some of whom have been Guilford employees for 15 years, will be laid off by Guilford and rehired by WFF. This shift will cause housekeeping staff to lose the retirement plan they currently receive from the College, and their medical insurance coverage will transition to a new plan. They will no longer be eligible for the raise they expected in June 2018. They face uncertainty about their hours and work schedules, as well as the new management’s expectations for safe and non-toxic cleaning practices and products. They have not been shown the actual contract that will govern their new working conditions.
The decision threatens to affect future housekeepers even more negatively. While existing employees will retain their current hourly rate and tuition benefits, new housekeepers hired by WFF will not be eligible for these benefits. Moreover, WFF’s hourly minimum is less than Guilford’s.
Administrators did not discuss or solicit input about this change from members of housekeeping or the broader Guilford community, unlike in previous years when the college leadership decided to subcontract dining services and the bookstore. In a meeting with college President Jane Fernandes Wed., April 18, housekeepers learned this was a “done deal” and were admonished to have a positive attitude. In an April 14th email to faculty and staff, Vice-President for Administration and Finance Leonard Sippel justified the decision by explaining, “The majority of all colleges and universities outsource their custodial services.” While custodial outsourcing may indeed be commonplace in higher education, we would like to see Guilford College aspire to be better than “industry standard” and remain true to its historic roots of leadership in social justice.
Outsourcing housekeeping to WFF Industries affects some of the College’s lowest-paid employees and disproportionately harms women of color, who make up the housekeeping staff. Also, this move ignores the college’s Compensation Plan, which Guilford staff, faculty, and administrators endorsed in 2017 as a guiding philosophy for salaries and benefits. Guided by Guilford College’s Quaker-inspired core values (of community, diversity, equality, excellence, integrity, justice, and stewardship), the Compensation Plan assured a living wage for employees and equitable distribution of benefits. However, some administrators have said that that Plan will not apply to housekeeping staff any more, because they will no longer be Guilford College employees.
A housekeeper speaking on conditions of anonymity said, “I’m upset about all of it. I’m upset about losing retirement. I’m upset that we don’t know anything about this new company. We love being Guilford College employees, but now we’re not a part of the college anymore. We will work at the college but not for the college. Basically it’s like we will work for a temporary agency.”
“The claim that the Compensation Plan will no longer apply to outsourced employees is disingenuous at best,” said Jim Hood, a faculty member who served on the committee that developed the Compensation Plan. “It is the very act of outsourcing the housekeeping employees that violates the spirit of the Plan itself, which guarantees a living wage (for the Greensboro area) at minimum to all employees and includes provisions that ‘Benefits are allocated equitably.’”
Psychology Professor Richard Zweigenhaft added “As one of the two faculty members who served on the Compensation Committee from its first meeting (in September 2015) until its last (in May 2017), I was quite disappointed to learn of the college’s decision to outsource the work of the 18 employees on the housekeeping staff. In my view, this decision went against a number of the key principles that guided the Compensation Committee in its work, and it very much violated the spirit of the final report.”
Maria Rosales, Associate Professor of Political Science, said “One of the reasons so many of us love Guilford College so much is that this is a college at which values are taken seriously. This decision, which directly harms low-paid women of color without even asking them for their input, is out of line with any reasonable definition of those values.”
A member of the Benefits Committee said “A change of this magnitude, one that will mean that some of Guilford’s most vulnerable and lowest paid employees will lose nearly all Guilford employee benefits, should have been brought in advance to the Benefits Committee for a full and open discussion and debate. Even more troubling to me is the fact that the input of the affected employees themselves was not included in the decision-making process.”
In solidarity with friends and colleagues in housekeeping, faculty will publicly reject this decision. The action will not disrupt the graduation ceremony itself, because faculty want students to be able to celebrate their accomplishments with their friends and families.