November 2014

As the Business Manager/President of IUOE Local 891, I am proud to represent New York City’s 800 Public School Custodian Engineers. Our members have the responsibility to ensure our children and all others who enter our schools have a safe and clean environment in which to learn and work. Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration failed to provide our members with the necessary help.

Not only have our members and the custodial workers they supervise not received a contractual raise since 2007, during his tenure Mayor Bloomberg reduced the custodial budgets used to operate the schools by over $58 million. Combined with the deliberate $25 million reduction in spending on after-school activities over the past three years, the result is the equivalent loss of over 2,000 full-time custodial workers system-wide.

Thankfully, Mayor de Blasio, the UFT and several other unions have negotiated a new wage pattern that I believe is both fair to the workforce and fiscally responsible. And, it is at the bargaining table and not by challenging City and State prevailing wage laws, where my Union and the other unions representing custodial workers should secure their much needed raises.

Custodial budgets are based entirely on a manpower allocation calculated according to the estimated staffing needs of that building. There is absolutely no funding provided to purchase materials or supplies. Rather, each Custodian Engineer receives an annual supply allocation in the form of a credit with a single vendor, SDI. Despite inflation, higher costs for environmentally safer cleaning products, energy-saving light bulbs and all other rising costs, the dollars allocated to each school have not increased for more than 20 years.

Today, a typical school building’s “annual supply allocation” will only cover the cost of six to seven months of supplies. As a result Custodian Engineers must utilize their labor budget to purchase necessary supplies allocation. It’s time the DOE allow the most efficient use of its limited resources by providing Custodian Engineers with approved vendors who have bid based on specific material costs. Foolishly, the Department of School Facilities requires almost all additional purchases be made through a sole-source vendor. The price of materials and supplies through that company are significantly higher than the price of identical items on the open market.

This process deserves a serious investigation and oversight. New dangers such as the hanta-virus scare, lead dust, lead caulking, swine flu (H1N1) and PCBs leaking from fluorescent light fixtures have all resulted in additional mandated protocols with additional cleaning requirements for my members and their staff. Not one of these mandates came with additional funding.

It has been 10 years since the City Council passed a resolution condemning the wasteful and dangerous practice of outsourcing custodial services to private, profit motivated contractors. The hearings and investigation which led to that Resolution proved that private cleaning companies were not only more costly than Civil Service Custodian Engineers they were more prone to dangerous mishaps due to inexperienced and unqualified supervisors.

Yet, the Department of Education continues to utilize private facilities management companies in more than 100 school buildings. The cost differential has continued to grow due to the budget cuts my members have experienced. It is long past time that this waste of taxpayer dollars comes to an end.