INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Even though the Indian River County School Board has decreed that school janitorial services must not be privatized, union janitors say district administrators are undermining their continued employment and maneuvering for privatization.
Maureen Weisberg, vice president of Communications of America Local 3180, which represents custodial workers, went before the board at the Sept. 27 meeting to make that case, saying administrators keep piling more and more tasks on fewer and fewer janitors and that custodians are being unfairly accused of doing poor work.
When the board was considering privatizing various in-house services in July, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. William Fritz told the board janitorial services should be considered because janitors were not doing a good job, but the board said janitors come into close contact with students and screening them should remain within district control. “We went from 200 to 84 employees since the Great Recession,” Weisman said. “We do not have a skill-set problem; we have a personnel-shortage problem.”
John Earman, director of the physical plant for about two years, has let go the landscaping crew and maintenance workers, assigning their tasks to custodians. Preparing buildings and grounds for sporting events and meetings, ceiling-tile replacement and gutter clean-out are recent additions to janitors’ workload, Weisberg said.
Earman also sold off equipment used by janitors and isn’t providing sufficient supplies, Weisberg said, forcing custodians to buy supplies with their own money so they can do their job.
Greatly adding to their workload is Earman’s practice of turning off the air conditioning at night, on weekends and during summer months, “causing every surface in the building to sweat,” Weisberg said. She provided the school board with pictures of black mold-like growth in schools.
Earman was recently reprimanded for exceeding his $50,000 purchasing authority by hiring outside janitorial services and for then trying to get a purchase order approved to cover the excess. Documents submitted to the board by new purchasing agent Jeff Carver not only revealed procurement violations, but also Earman’s partial privatization of janitorial services.
The janitors say they fear they will be fired and their services outsourced, with poor performance given as the cover story, but the underlying reason for privatization is to reduce the district’s health-insurance burden by reducing the number of workers on the payroll. Fritz, who recommended outsourcing janitorial service, oversees the district’s self-insured healthcare program, which is $7 million in the red.
District officials declined to comment about Weisberg’s accusations.