The pilot project involved ten schools. Five were contracted out to private cleaning companies, chosen on the basis of competitive bids made to the school board. The five contracted-out schools were matched on a one-on-one basis with five schools that used in-house staff. The schools were matched on the basis of a number of key criteria, such as square footage, floor plan, date of construction and student population.
Two independent evaluators were hired to provide a written report based on their objective observations on the relative performance of the private and public staff in the ten matched schools. Here’s what they found:
- Using a “deficiency scale” to measure and compare cleaning performances, the average cleaning performance of in-house custodians exceeded that of contract custodians by 18%. In critical areas such as fountains and sinks, the evaluators said of the contracted custodians’ performances: “without question more time and effort is required…these areas are definite health concerns.” The inferior performances in the contracted-out schools occurred even though four of them had an additional 0.5 FTE staff complement.
- Contract custodians’ knowledge of WHMIS was substantially below that of in-house custodians. Contract custodians received a failing grade of 28% compared to an average 63% grade of in-house staff. In a general safety audit, in-house custodians scored an average 68% while contract custodians scored only 44%.
- The staff turnover rate for contract schools was 500%. In the space of 17 months, 34 of the contractors’ employees were replaced, compared to 2 in-house staff.
- High turnover rates became a major concern of principals. Principals and staff had to divert effort from teaching to maintaining custodial functions, and schools were less safe and secure than those with custodians who were familiar members of the school team and who had developed a sense of “ownership” of the facilities. · Health, safety and security are primary concerns in a school setting, concerns easily compromised by high turnover rates among custodians. High turnover rates are a consequence of the lower wages and minimal benefits that private companies offer their employees. Companies offer lower wages and benefits because of their need to turn a profit, which is more difficult in competitive bidding situations.
- The consultants concluded that contracting out custodial work to the lowest bidder is inappropriate for public schools. Even if a winning company maintained or improved wages and benefits of their employees, the next round of bidding would inevitably undermine those workers’ gains, leading to lower wages and benefits, high turnover rates, and compromised health, safety and security standards in public schools.
To obtain a copy of CUPE Local 474’s report summary, or the full Custodial Pilot Project, contact:
CUPE 474 president
(403) 426-6202 (fax)