Press

Contact: press@seiu1.org

U46 custodians protest as school boards meet in Chicago

wheaton member univision

Night janitors from school districts in Elgin, Rockford and Wheaton protest low pay and lack of days off outside a convention of Illinois school board members in Chicago Friday. | Submitted

Dave Gathman

DGathman@tribpub.com

Nov. 21 7:15 p.m.

CHICAGO — School District U46’s night custodians, hoping to get higher pay and some paid days off from the private contractor who employs them, are continuing to apply pressure against the U46 school board.

As the Illinois Association of School Boards held its annual meeting in a Chicago hotel Friday, about five of the U46 workers joined about 30 custodians from the Service Employees International Union who work for school districts in Wheaton and Rockford. They held signs with messages such as “U46 teachers got raises. What about me?”

The 172 night custodians work for GCA Service Group of Knoxville, Tenn. Their contract expired in June and they finally agreed to a one-year extension that gave them no pay raise and no insurance or paid days off. Several members have spoken to the U46 Board of Education in recent weeks, asking board members to apply pressure on GCA to give them a better deal.

Hugo Barrientos, who works at Kimball Middle School, said he was on the picket line Friday.

“We haven’t had a raise in four years, and that raise was 10 cents an hour,” Barrientos said. “I was making $10.70 before that and now for four years I have been making $10.80. Last week I was so sick, I had to call my supervisor and say I couldn’t make it to work that day. I lost one day’s pay because we get no paid sick days.”

“Thanksgiving should be a happy time, not a time to worry about a smaller paycheck,” said Shana Spearman, a custodian in Rockford Public Schools District 205 who also was on the picket line. “Working full-time without a single paid sick day or holiday isn’t right.”

Lonnell Saffold, a director with SEIU Local 1, said it is within the school boards’ power to dictate wage and benefit standards to the cleaning contractors they hire.

“There is still time for you to ensure that the men and women who keep your schools clean and healthy—many of whom are parents of U46 children—are treated fairly,” Saffold wrote in a letter to U46 board members last week. “At a time when infectious disease outbreaks in schools are rampant, supporting paid sick time is not only an issue of respect, it is a serious safety issue.”

“The national trend of outsourcing janitorial work in public schools should not result in a race to the bottom,” Saffold said. “Instead of inflicting poverty jobs on workers and their families, public school districts should be providing good jobs that build strong communities.”

But during a U46 board meeting last month, most board members and district officials seemed reluctant to intervene in the dispute. Chief Operating Officer Jeff King said the district rehired GCA to do the work under a new contract just last spring, and that contract lasts through 2019.

King said the contract specifies that the company must pay at least a certain minimum wage to its workers, based on four levels of duties and experience, but requires no benefits.

“We don’t get involved in negotiations between a contractor and its employees,” King said in answer to questions that night from board member Veronica Noland. He said it’s up to a contractor like GCA to say, “This is what we pay,” and in letting such a contract, the school district usually is obligated to pick the lowest bidder.

Noland said at that meeting that she wonders why the district can’t just use its own employees.

“There are cost efficiencies involved,” King said.

http://couriernews.chicagotribune.com/2014/11/21/u46-custodians-protest-school-boards-meet-chicago/

 

Comments Off on U46 custodians protest as school boards meet in Chicago

Indy janitor fights for right to fair wages [NUVO]

By Amber Stearns
NUVO | October 31. 2014

Ana Rosas used to clean the offices of Ambrose Property Group as a janitor working for Sunshine Maintenance Services.

When she hired into the position at $8 an hour, Ana knew it wasn’t enough to live on and support her family, so she asked how long until a raise would be considered.

She was told six months.

So, Ana did her job to the best of her ability. She cleaned tables, floors, bathrooms, offices and entire floors. Ana, a fellow co-worker, and her supervisor cleaned four floors in the Ambrose building every night, then walked down the block to clean another building.

After six months on the job and a clean record, Ana approached her supervisor about the raise she thought she was eligible to receive.

“Then he came back to me and said the manager (of Sunshine Management) said ‘this comes from the president.’ He said there is no money and that there are a stack of applications and the door is wide open.”

(Ana spoke with me through translator Monica Morales because she speaks little to no English.)

“Two months later I insisted again because $8 is not enough,” said Ana. “$283 a week is not enough to pay my bills, food, house, help my kids out with their education.”

Ana is the single mother of two; she has a daughter, 19, and a son, 16. Her husband died before her son was born. Her daughter is a student at Ivy Tech and IUPUI studying mechanical engineering. She says it was watching her daughter go to school and work at the same time to pay for it that prompted her to seek out more money from her employer.

“She doesn’t sleep she goes to work early in the morning then to school then back to work,” said Ana. “I know that what she is studying is really really hard and she needs to study and it makes me feel helpless because I can’t help her out.”

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 in Indianapolis got involved with Ana’s situation and has been helping her with case. With their advice, Ana approached Sunshine Management again for a raise in pay and for the right to form a union among the other employees. Both requests were denied and Ana lost her job.

Ana has since talked to Ambrose Property Group to let them know the actions of the company they hired and how their employees were treated. Their response was very positive, immediately asking what they could do to help.

“They (Ambrose) needed to know that the company they hired is paying us really low wages. I clean the president’s desk and I can see how they live,” said Ana, referring to the pictures of family, vacations, and other things that decorated the office. “How nice would that be to dedicate time to your family.”

Ana also filed a formal charge of unfair labor practice against Sunshine Maintenance and her case is under federal investigation. The regional labor board is scheduled to interview Ana as they investigate the Sunshine’s actions. SEIU Local 1 spokesperson Leslie Mendoza Kamstra says they hope Ana will be able to get her job back with a raise.

Ana says SEIU Local 1 has been very supportive in her fight for better wages and benefits and says she would do it again.

“Because we need to fight for our rights,’ said Ana. “It is enough of them stepping all over us. Our work should count.”

She also says that anyone else in the same situation should no be afraid to speak up and fight for what they deserve.

“Don’t give up,” said Ana. “There are unions. There are allies in the community, faith allies in our churches. We are not alone.

Comments Off on Indy janitor fights for right to fair wages [NUVO]

Don’t avert your eyes from real plight of working poor [Indianapolis Star]

By Fran Quigley
Indianapolis Star | November 19. 2014

Judging by online message boards and the pronouncements of some politicians, it is easy for some of us to treat the working poor as an abstraction.

So allow me to introduce Ana Rosas. If the statistic that one in every four private sector workers earns less than $10 per hour seems a little remote, ask Rosas about the challenge of working as a janitor in Downtown Indianapolis. She can tell you how wages of $8 per hour, and take-home pay of less than $300 each week, translates to standing in line at the church food pantry. Ask her about her humiliation when asking for loans from family and friends in order to pay the rent.

Perhaps it is tempting to dismiss the working poor as somewhat lazy. That temptation disappears when Rosas describes the excruciating back and leg pain that is a predictable result of a 54-year-old woman mopping, vacuuming and hauling trash 40 hours each week. Like nearly half of the Indiana private sector workforce, Rosas had no paid sick days in her janitorial job. Every evening, she put aside her pain and limped into work.

Record levels of local and national income inequality may not seem tangible to us. If so, ask Rosas about how she scrubbed the toilets used by lawyers and business executives who take home wages 10 times or greater than hers. During the day, the occupants of those offices arrange for vacation homes and season tickets. At night, Rosas wipes down their desks and worries about eviction notices and filling prescriptions.

Maybe we shake our head in disapproval at teenagers flunking out of school after no one was home to oversee homework. Judgment becomes a little harder to issue when Rosas explains that her husband died when she was pregnant with their second child. Leaving her teenagers home while she worked until 1AM was a necessity, not a choice.

The limited protection of U.S. labor laws can seem like just words on a page. The one in five union activists who get fired for speaking out may come off as mere data points. At least until you talk with Rosas about when she asked for a raise and expressed her desire to be represented by the Service Employees International Union. She was fired days later.

An unfair labor practice charge has been filed and awaits a ruling. But, in the meantime, Rosas is without permanent work, and the company is likely to be safe from any more union talk at the workplace. The worst-case scenario for the company is likely being forced to give Rosas some back pay. As University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer has said, U.S. labor law’s limited deterrence to employers is akin to making the worst punishment for a burglar the prospect that they may have to return the stolen items.

It is not surprising that Ana Rosas is invisible to so many of us. The lawyers and the business executives whose offices she cleaned work for big-name companies whose names we all would recognize. But they did not directly employ Ana Rosas or her colleagues. The law firms and corporations leave that to a property manager, Ambrose Property Group. Turns out Ambrose delegates that unpleasantness out, too, leaving the janitors to work for a low-profile contractor, Sunshine Maintenance Services. (Ambrose declined to comment for this column, saying the matter is between Sunshine and its employee. Sunshine did not reply to my request for comment.)

So you may not know Ana Rosas. But she knows you. She knows people think $7.25 per hour is just fine for a minimum wage. She knows that people believe employers should be able to crush a union whenever they wish.

But she wonders if you would still hold onto those views if you had to confront her reality. If you had to go to work when you were sick or hurt. If you were fired for speaking out. If you tried raising a family on poverty wages.

Rosas has been composed while explaining her struggles, but finally her voice starts to rise. “Are you able to live on $8 per hour?” she asks. “Do the math and tell me how this is supposed to work.”

Now, tears of frustration begin to flow. They are no abstraction, either.

Quigley is a clinical professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.


Comments Off on Don’t avert your eyes from real plight of working poor [Indianapolis Star]

Resignation Shows Mental Health Board Still Lightning Rod [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

by Meg Kissinger, November 10, 2014.

Kathie Eilers.

Kathie Eilers (photo from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

Kathie Eilers, the on-again-off-again mental health administrator, resigned Monday as liaison to the newly created Milwaukee County Mental Health Board, saying her expertise is no longer required.

County Executive Chris Abele, who appointed the 70-year-old former administrator to the board in May, said he knew her term would be a “finite engagement.”

Eilers released a statement saying that she enjoyed her time working with the board, and that her resignation would be effective Dec. 19.

County Board members, who have been quick to criticize the Mental Health Board since its inception last spring, say the move is a sign of turmoil on the new board.

“There are some very good people on the board, but it is in disarray,” County Board Supervisor Patricia Jursik said. “The way the whole board was set up has been problematic from the beginning.”

The board was created by state law — it passed the state Senate and Assembly by a combined vote of 122-1 — after a Journal Sentinel investigation showed hundreds of people with severe mental illness suffered and died as County Board members ignored decades of calls for reform.

The law requires the new board to be made up of medical professionals and people with mental illness. Their goal is to transition mental health care in Milwaukee County from services mainly provided at the county psychiatric hospital to more programs in the community.

County Board members have sharply criticized the new board for passing a budget in late August without holding public comment, calling it “taxation without representation.”

The mental health budget is included in the overall county budget submitted by Abele — an elected official. The County Board approved the overall budget Monday. By law, the board cannot change the amount in the mental health budget.

‘A vast improvement’

Abele said Monday the numbers are moving in the right direction since the new board was established, with fewer emergency room visits and better outcomes for patients.

“I never said this new board would be perfect,” Abele said. “But it’s a vast improvement on what we had for decades. Does anyone really want the County Board to be running mental health again?”

The debate comes as administrators grapple with ways to provide care amid a shrinking workforce.

John Schneider, the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division’s executive medical director, sent a memo last week detailing the reduction of inpatient beds at the county’s Mental Health Complex while the administration works to recruit more employees.

“We will be instituting new census caps for use to better, safer and more efficaciously manage our duty to care for patients,” he said.

Pat Schroeder, the BHD administrator, told Mental Health Board members in an email last week that she and her staff were working hard to meet the demands to ensure patient safety.

“The challenges of the recent weeks have demonstrated that we need to take different actions to assure quality and safety,” Schroeder said.

The county’s Mental Health Complex has been cited more than 182 times by federal and state administrators for code violations in the past 10 years, 30% more than at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals for criminal offenders.

A doctor who examined medical records of six patients who died at the complex in 2012 found that basic medical care was lacking in four of the cases, contributing to their deaths.

The county recruited and trained 14 registered nurses in the past three months, only to have 14 other nurses resign.

The BHD, with 585 employees, is one of the county’s largest departments. Those who work there are considered county employees, but the budget is overseen by the Mental Health Board and not the County Board.

Mental Health Board members have called a special meeting at 10 a.m. Nov. 19 to discuss what duties they and the BHD staff should be performing. The meeting will be in the auditorium at the Milwaukee Public Schools Central Services Building, 5225 W. Vliet St., to allow easy access for the public to attend and comment.

Eilers, a nurse, retired from the county in 2003 after nearly 20 years, including about a decade as behavioral health administrator, with a pension of $4,056 a month. Abele named her as the head of the BHD in 2013, but the County Board rejected her appointment.

Her job with the Mental Health Board paid $75 an hour, and she worked roughly 26 hours a week.

Comments Off on Resignation Shows Mental Health Board Still Lightning Rod [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Janitors Asking Rockford School Board for Support [Rockford Register Star]

By Corina Curry
Rockford Register Star | October 29. 2014

rrstar graphicROCKFORD — The 230-some people who clean Rockford public schools sent a small contingent of custodians to Tuesday’s School Board meeting in hopes of appealing to the district’s sense of fairness.

“You should use the taxpayers’ money to bring good jobs to the city,” said Carolina Villalobos, an organizer with Service Employees International Union, which represents the employees. “We’re here to ask for your help.”

Most of the district’s custodians work for $11 an hour, SEIU officials said. While they no longer are district employees — their work was outsourced in 2005 — small groups of school janitors have been attending board meetings in recent months, asking for the district’s support as they attempt to negotiate a new one-year contract with their employer, GCA Services Group.

The people who mop floors and empty garbage cans at the district’s 47 schools work full-time without health insurance, paid holidays or paid sick time. The group is asking for a 3 percent raise and benefits from GCA but has been unsuccessful. The current contract expires Friday.

The group is frustrated, members said, because the district has spent millions of dollars on facilities upgrades and building improvements in recent years, but when they ask for better working conditions to care for the buildings, they are told there are no funds.

Before 2005, Rockford’s public school custodians were district employees. The district put the contract out to bid that year. The employees unionized as SEIU Local 1 about eight years ago.

The district signed a three-year contract with GCA in May.

Corina Curry: 815-987-1371; ccurry@rrstar.com; @corinacurry

http://www.rrstar.com/article/20141029/NEWS/141029274

Comments Off on Janitors Asking Rockford School Board for Support [Rockford Register Star]

Washington University adjunct faculty take a step toward unionization [St. Louis Post Dispatch]

washington univA group of Washington University adjunct instructors have taken a crucial step toward forming a union.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1 has filed a petition for a union election with the federal government on the instructors’ behalf.

The petition makes Washington University’s adjunct faculty the first such group in St. Louis to reach that milestone amid a larger nationwide push for higher pay and improved job security.

Adjuncts are typically part-time, low-wage faculty who teach classes when full-time instructors are already overloaded with courses.

Among their major complaints are low wages and a lack of job security. Adjuncts typically work on semester-long contracts, not knowing whether they will be asked to work beyond their current semester.

Leonard Perez, an administrator with the National Labor Relations Board for the St. Louis region, said his agency could hold a hearing between Washington University and the SEIU as early as Friday.

The hearing, Perez explains, would come only if the university challenges whether adjuncts have the proper standing for the SEIU to represent them.

The university could also go the other way, Perez said, and voluntarily agree to a union election. At that point, it would be a matter of scheduling the date and time of a secret ballot election.

Washington University Provost Holden Thorp said although the university has been aware of the effort to unionize for months, administrators have not yet decided how to respond to the petition.

“We are very mindful of the concerns our adjuncts have. We are always looking for new ways to help with (job security),” Thorp said. He added that Washington University typically offers adjuncts higher wages than other schools.

Also, WU administrators are considering creating space for adjuncts to hold office hours and granting them more input within their respective departments on which classes are taught, Thorp said.

Much of the noise surrounding the unionization of adjuncts has come from the SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign.

The SEIU has said the campaign is meant to address the chronically poor working conditions adjuncts face.

Adjunct Action scored a major victory Friday when Tufts University agreed to a contract with roughly 200 part-time faculty guaranteeing them a 22 percent pay raise over the next three years. The contract also offers one-year contracts and a first crack at full-time openings.

Elizabeth Lemons, part-time instructor in Tufts’ religion department since 1999, said the yearlong effort to unionize was largely painless.

“I’d characterize the negotiations as nonadversarial and more geared toward problem-solving,” Lemons said. “It was about justice and fairness.”

Chris Boehm, 33, is hoping for a similar result. Boehm has been working at Washington University as an adjunct writing instructor since 2011. He teaches either two or three classes a semester, earning between $18,000 and $24,000 a year.

Boehm, who works on semester-long contracts, said he can never be sure if he’s going to be employed six months into the future. For the past year, he’s been working with the SEIU to build support for unionization.

Washington University has slightly more than 400 adjunct positions. Generally, the threshold for filing a petition for a union election requires 30 percent participation from a group, or 120 adjunct faculty in the case of Washington University.

Boehm said he doesn’t know exactly how many adjuncts support forming a union, but those who are in favor typically share a similar outlook.

“I think we want some sort of job security,” he said. “Full benefits and livable wage would also be nice.”

Boehm’s story is a familiar one among adjuncts. After earning a Ph.D. in 2012, he’s struggled to find full-time work.

“I’ve been looking for a full-time job for the last three years,” he said. “I’ve tried at high schools, community colleges, major research institutions, private liberal arts schools … I’ve applied for just about everything.”

For Thorp, Washington University’s provost, Boehm’s plight is indicative of a larger issue among the country’s colleges and universities.

He said leaders in higher education haven’t devoted enough thought to whether the country’s job market can support the number of Ph.D. graduates that universities produce.

“There’s a reason we can go and get someone to teach these classes for a few thousand (dollars),” Thorp said. “It’s because there are Ph.D.s out there who couldn’t get a full-time or a tenure-track job. We need for universities to come together and really grapple with this.”

Comments Off on Washington University adjunct faculty take a step toward unionization [St. Louis Post Dispatch]

“Union issue” still in background of governor’s campaign [WCIA TV Springfield]

ILLINOIS — “Right to work” hasn’t been a headline in the campaign for Illinois governor, but it could be one of the most controversial topics. The policy for a state, or municipalities inside it, to become a “right to work” community has been a divisive issue in states with large union presences. In Illinois, it could be just as divisive.

A right to work law would end mandatory payment of dues for workers in companies or government organizations with a union presence. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has been on the record saying he would support “right to work” zones where a county or local municipality could decide for itself if it wished to implement the law.

Paul Kersey is labor policy director for the Illinois Policy Institute. It’s a conservative research group. Kersey says “right to work” is about giving employees back their rights.

“Workers can decide for themselves whether or not to join a union. You cannot be forced to join or pay dues or fees to a union as a condition for employment,” Kersey said.

The institute’s research shows right to work states are more attractive to businesses looking for a home.

“Employers want to know if there’s a union in the workplace, and it’s there because the workers really want it there,” Kersey said.

But Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, says the real reason companies look for right to work is because the loss in revenue drains unions’ bargaining power.

“What it will do is weaken workers’ ability to use their collective strength to protect their wages and benefits,” Balanoff said.

Rauner has suggested letting individual communities create right to work zones to attract business. Balanoff said promoting growth by weakening unions is not smart business in the long run.

“If we’re bringing companies in here,” he said, “and we’re telling them come to this state because you won’t have to pay taxes and you can pay workers less than you might pay in other places, that’s not a good idea.”

Balanoff said the biggest issue with right to work is it creates a free-rider system eroding union support. People who don’t pay are still required to be given all of the protections under their union contract. Rauner has said he would not advocate for a statewide right to work law.

http://www.illinoishomepage.net/story/d/story/union-issue-still-in-background-of-governors-campa/11172/a4Nd0fWvXk66UniOyGTTpQ

Comments Off on “Union issue” still in background of governor’s campaign [WCIA TV Springfield]

U46 Custodians Working without Contract, Want More Equal Treatment [Courier News]

Dave Gathman | dgathman@stmedianetwork.com | Oct. 9 7:27 p.m.

hugo courier news picELGIN — Even as Elgin Community College apparently has settled the issue of possibly outsourcing its custodial duties, custodians who already are working for an outside company in District U46 K-12 schools are involved in a heated labor negotiation. They say they want benefits and pay more equal to that enjoyed by custodian/maintenance people working alongside them who are employed directly by District U46.

District U46 now has two sets of custodian/maintenance people. One group, who work mainly in the daytime, work 40 hours a week. They handle more challenging maintenance duties, work as U46 employees, get a healthy package of benefits and are represented by a union named the Educational Support Service Organization (ESSO). These people have a contract through 2016.

But since 2006 the 180 custodians who clean up all U46 schools at night or work as additional cleaning staff in the daytime at high schools and middle schools, are employed by an outside company named GCA Service Group, based in Knoxville, Tenn. The school district contracted with GCA to provide those services. GCA in turn hires the workers, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

SEIU organizer Carolina Villalobos said the labor contract between that second tier of custodians and GCA expired June 30. As representatives of the union and GCA continue to negotiate, the current contract conditions were extended, but Villalobos said that extension also will expire Oct. 31.

The pay and benefits between the two groups contrast drastically. According to U46’s contract with the ESSO workers, they get 14 paid holidays per year, including the Good Friday “Spring Holiday” and the day after Thanksgiving. They get 10 days of paid vacation after one year on the job, growing to 20 days of vacation after 15 years of service. They get up to 10 days per year of sick leave, which can accrue from year to year without limit.

They also get health insurance, for which they must pay 10 percent of the taxpayers’ cost. They get dental insurance and $30,000 worth of life insurance. And the school district and they share the cost of accumulating pension benefits through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

And their pay ranges from about $14 per hour, for a middle-school night custodian for a relief custodian, to more than $35 per hour for a maintenance foreman.

The GCA custodians, on the other hand, get no benefits at all and make barely more than the minimum wage, according to Kimball Middle School custodian Hugo Barrientos.

Barrientos took his group’s case to the U46 Board of Education this week, asking board members to do whatever they can to influence GCA in the labor talks.

“We are employees but we are also parents,” Barrientos said during the board meeting’s public-comment time. “We work hard to ensure a clean and healthy environment for students, teachers and staff. But we are struggling to make ends meet.”

For example, Barrientos said that because the GCA workers get no sick pay, they often come to school sick, which could spread germs to the children in their schools.

He said later that after working in U46 schools for 12 years — the last eight as a GCA employee — he makes $10.80 an hour for a 35-hour work week. Some of his coworkers make as little as $9, he said.

Barrientos said the GCA people who work in the daytime, as he does, do many of the same thing as their higher-paid, benefits-endowed counterparts who are employed directly by the school district. Besides cleaning the cafeteria after meals, he said, he changes light bulbs and ballasts, shovels snow, and helps students open uncooperative lockers.

GCA officials could not be reached for comment.

“I don’t know what we could do” about the situation, U46 CEO Tony Sanders said after the meeting. He said he believes GCA was chosen by the school district as the lowest-cost responsible vendor to provide such services, and the way they compensate their employees must at least meet the minimum requirements of the state prevailing wage law.

When Elgin Community College recently went looking for an outside company to provide consulting services for its all-in-house custodial work, GCA was one of five companies that submitted a bid. But ECC leaders picked another firm because its fee was much lower and that firm specialized in consulting work.

http://couriernews.suntimes.com/2014/10/09/u46-custodians-working-without-contract-want-equal-treatment/

Comments Off on U46 Custodians Working without Contract, Want More Equal Treatment [Courier News]

Chicago Public Schools Under Fire Over Dirty Conditions, Rotten Food [Huffington Post]

CHICAGO — The new school year is off to a messy start in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district.

Michael Flynn, who has taught sixth grade at Otis Elementary in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood since 1977, said he’s never seen his school dirtier. A whole floor went untouched overnight recently, leaving surfaces unswept and heaps of garbage in classrooms.

“It’s a germ factory,” Flynn told HuffPost. “And it’s as bad now as it’s ever been in terms of kids not getting what they need.”

The Chicago Public School system has faced notorious budget cuts in recent years, and closed 49 schools in 2013. Recent money-saving moves to privatize management of custodial and cafeteria services have drawn the ire of parents and faculty, who have alleged schools are dirtier — and school lunches are worse — than ever.

A teacher at a high school on the city’s Southwest Side, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the district, described where he’s taught for the past eight years as “gross and disgusting.”

“We’re running out of toilet paper,” he said. “I’m seeing more bugs than ever before. There’s overflowing trash that sits for days and weeks in some cases.”

The teacher said his classroom has had a leaky ceiling that’s gone unfixed for two years, and roaches were recently spotted in a student locker room, causing students to avoid using the showers after phys ed class.

“It’s gross and disgusting and my health is being affected,” he said. “I want to be outside the minute I’m in here. It smells. Everything smells and I can’t focus. If I can’t focus to teach, how can kids focus to learn?”

The complaints follow the school district’s hiring of Philadelphia-based Aramark in February to supervise and train school custodians. Aramark in the spring pulled many custodians from their longtime schools and assigned them to a floating pool of janitors. This led to fewer permanent custodians in schools, and talk of layoffs.

CPS chief administrative officer Tim Cawley introduced the Aramark custodial contract by telling school principals, who were previously responsible for managing custodians, that service under Aramark would be “like Jimmy John’s,” with fast responses. Aramark, Cawley said, would make schools cleaner at a lower cost.

But the new management system has left many Chicago schools markedly messier. Some people have taken to using the Twitter hashtag #CPSfilth to document the conditions, including this shot purportedly taken inside a school restroom:

A teacher at an elementary school in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared punishment, said her school has gone weeks without soap in student restrooms, causing teachers to buy some with their own money. The teacher said she bought toilet paper for her students to use. As classroom trash piles up, flies and gnats have become common, she said.

Several recent surveys corroborate these conditions. A survey of about 230 CPS principals and administrators conducted by AAPLE, an arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, found that dirty schools have become common this year. Another survey, conducted by the parent activist group Raise Your Hand CPS. found concerns with school cleanliness. And a Chicago Teachers Union survey conducted in June reports that maintenance problems were surfacing in the spring.

The messy conditions attracted criticism from the Chicago Board of Education at last month’s meeting, held on Sept. 24. Less than a week later, Aramark, CPS and Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents the district’s privately employed custodians, announced changes to planned layoffs of custodians. Instead of firing 468 CPS janitors at the end of September, the district will lay off 290 at the end of October.

garbage

A photo taken inside a Southwest Side high school this spring, after the Aramark contract went into effect.

Karen Cutler, an Aramark spokeswoman, told HuffPost in a statement that the company was doing everything in its power to maintain quality. “CPS, Aramark and SEIU Local 1 continue to work closely to make sure all CPS schools have appropriate custodial staffing levels to ensure clean schools,” Cutler said. She added that the company has brought in additional managers at its own expense to help train CPS custodians to use new equipment she touted as “more efficient” and “environmentally friendly.”

Aramark’s three-year, $260 million contract will save the cash-strapped district $40 million to $54 million over its life, school officials have said. (SodexoMAGIC, a private company that’s 51 percent owned by former basketball star Magic Johnson, has an $80 million contract to oversee custodial services at 33 of the district’s 522 schools as part of a pilot program outsourcing all maintenance.)

Aramark had already been working with the school district. The company signed a $97 million-a-year contract for food service in 2013. The district said the deal can be renewed three times and will save taxpayers $12 million annually.

Many teachers, quick to point out they blame neither the custodians nor the principals for the filth, say conditions aren’t getting better. They’re also turning attention to Aramark-managed school lunches.

A teacher at a South Side elementary school, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her job, told HuffPost her students have been fed “disgusting” meals under Aramark. She claimed the children were repeatedly served rotten apples last spring and were given moldy bread last month. She also said the cafeteria served spoiled broccoli that was eaten by some students before workers discovered it.

moldy bread

The teacher said that like at most Chicago schools, 90 percent of the students at her school come from low-income homes, so the food they are served at school is a main source of nutrition for them.

“I’m so nervous these kids will get sick,” she said. “It breaks my heart because these are kids at our school that in general we know are going home and not getting food at home. They’re getting kind of junk for a meal.”

Others HuffPost interviewed for this article had no complaints about school food service. Some lauded Aramark for upgrading some schools with “warming” kitchens for pre-packaged frozen foods, to “cooking” kitchens that allow preparation of healthier and better-tasting meals.

Aramark was criticized earlier this year when a WBEZ reporter, inquiring about the ingredients of cafeteria chicken nuggets, was told the lone ingredient was “chicken nuggets.”

The company also has been faulted for its ties to the school district. Leslie Fowler, the district’s head of nutritional support services, worked at Aramark before she was hired by the school district — a connection that prompted allegations from a competing company that she had played an inappropriate role in the bid process. The school district’s new communications chief, Ron Iori, hired in June, also previously worked for Aramark.

CPS did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Other school districts also have reportedly had trouble with Aramark. The Philadelphia School District resumed operating its cafeterias two years into its contract with Aramark in 2007 because it was dissatisfied. The Houston Independent School District considered terminating its agreement with Aramark in 2011, but ultimately renewed its contract.

The Chicago Tribune reports that at the Sept. 24 school board meeting, Cawley took responsibility for Aramark’s new role, but maintained that the “vast, vast majority” of Chicago schools are as clean or cleaner than ever.

Tom Balanoff, SEIU Local 1 president, told HuffPost he believed the reduced layoffs and Aramark technological changes will help custodians “be able to maintain the level of cleanliness” needed. If more issues arise, he said he would hope CPS will rehire more custodians.

“They’re going through the motions,” said Jennie Biggs, a parent of three CPS students. Last month, she told the Board of Education a student vomited on a classroom rug on a Friday afternoon and the mess remained uncleaned the following Monday. “It’s disturbing that people in the school are actually taking appropriate steps to try and get someone to address it, and they’re being ignored,” she said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/08/chicago-public-schools-dirty_n_5922982.html

Comments Off on Chicago Public Schools Under Fire Over Dirty Conditions, Rotten Food [Huffington Post]

VIDEO! KCPS Launches Program to Help Put an end to bullying [KCTV 5 News]

KCTV5

KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – The Kansas City Public School District just launched a new program this week to try to put an end to bullying.

In it, schools will have new rules against it and teachers will go through special training.

While this program is new to the school district, one woman who works there has already been working to stop bullies in their tracks.

Desiree Saunders’ kitchen at the cafeteria at Northeast High School is a bully-free zone. Bullying isn’t tolerated by Saunders and her campaign is changing attitudes for students throughout the school.

“Because you get a lot more bees with honey,” she said.

The bees Saunders is talking about are troubled students. Respect is her honey.

“I care. A lot of these students go through a lot. They’re paying bills at home. These are the only two meals a student gets a day,” she said.

Saunders calls every student by their first name and, in return, they lovingly call her Miss D.

“Some of the students here, believe it or not, they just want to interact, they just want you to say something to them, show that you do care,” she said.

The lunch lady’s caring approach is to curb bullying at Northeast High School.

“Students being bullied for their food, being bullied for money. I’ve seen students in here writing papers for students because they say, ‘Hurry up do my work’. No, we’re not going to do that,” Saunders said.

When the teens walk in, Miss D gets on her microphone and begins her lesson.

“I’ll say, you know, ‘That’s one of your classmates, that’s your little brother or your little sister, so we have to stick together, we have to protect each other,'” she said.

Every year Miss D recruits for her anti-bully squad. She gets the cool kids to stick up for the students being bullied.
“We need our anti-bully squad to be ready for anyone who needs it,” Saunders said.

Johnisha Griffin was one such student. Classmates picked on her for the way she dressed. That was before Miss D stepped in and gave her a new focus.

“By being myself. Telling me to go far in life and get my education,” Griffin said.

“The bullying has stopped and everyone is a fan of Johnisha Griffin,” Sanders said. I’m here for the person who’s not going to speak up for themselves. I am one of a few good men, so I’m here for that.”

Students at the school have said that while there’s no bullying in the lunch room, it does find its way in the classroom and district officials want to put a stamp to that.

KCPS’ new anti-bullying program is based off of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. It focuses on four core components that include school-level, classroom-level, individual-level and community-level. Click here to find out exactly how it focuses on those four components.

KCPS’ program will train more teachers to stop the problem by responding to the problem just like Miss D.

By Laura McCallister and Erika Tallan, August 14, 2014.

Comments Off on VIDEO! KCPS Launches Program to Help Put an end to bullying [KCTV 5 News]