CPS kills $60M deal at the last minute over sexual harassment of janitors

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Arnie Rivera, the Chicago Public Schools’ chief operating officer, pulled a proposed $60 million facilities oversight contract amid concerns about a would-be contractor’s poor response to employee complaints of sexual harassment. | Max Herman / Sun-Times files

Just before a scheduled vote, Chicago Public Schools officials withdrew plans to approve a $60.6 million contract for school cleaning and other facilities management work because the company set to be given the work has a poor history of protecting its janitors from sexual harassment, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

GCA Educational Services Central States Inc. was being recommended for the lucrative, three-year deal to manage facilities services at 34 Chicago schools, including cleaning, which has become an issue amid reports of filthy schools.

But at the same June 27 meeting at which the Chicago Board of Education was set to award the contract, Arnie Rivera, CPS’s chief operating officer, announced he was pulling the recommendation to hire GCA to oversee the work at a group of South Side schools where some of the worst problems were found during inspections for cleanliness.

“Some information was brought to my attention that raised some serious concerns and has led me to reconsider awarding the zone to that vendor at this time,” Rivera told Board of Ed members.

Board members didn’t publicly ask about the concerns. And Rivera wouldn’t say why he took the unusual step of withdrawing an item from the board’s agenda after it was made public.

But the Sun-Times confirmed it was because GCA’s parent company, ABM Industries, Inc., has had a series of problems keeping its janitors safe on the job.

ABM was featured in the 2015 PBS “Frontline” documentary “Rape on the Night Shift” about women who were sexually harassed and assaulted while working as night janitors in California.

Since 2000, ABM has been sued three times by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over such claims. While under a three-year consent decree that a judge signed in one of those cases, the company was sued again by three janitors in California who accused ABM of failing to do enough to keep them from being sexually harassed and assaulted at work.

In the spring of 2017, more female janitors in California complained to the company that supervisors sexually harassed them, then sought help from the EEOC, according to the documentary.

And GCA Service Group — which ABM bought in 2017 — had been sued in 2012 by a school janitor in Tennessee who said she was fired after reporting incidents to supervisors of sexual harassment and assault by a coworker. Her case was settled for undisclosed terms in May 2013, according to court records.

When a reporter asked CPS officials about those cases, they confirmed the company’s poor history in dealing with sexual harassment was why they abruptly pulled the deal.

But they wouldn’t say why they recommended GCA in the first place or how they were unaware of the issues in dealing with harassment.

According to CPS spokesman Michael Passman, officials only “recently” became aware of ABM’s legal settlements “related to the company’s handling of sexual abuse,” and that led to rescinding the proposed contract.

“CPS is reviewing this matter to determine why ABM’s history was not disclosed to the district” during the review conducted as part of the competitive-bidding process, Passman says.

CPS requires any would-be vendor to file a disclosure form when it puts in a bid for a contract with the school system that asks: “In the past five years, has the contractor or controlling person(s) … been a party in litigation, or subject to a lien, claim, demand or judgment?”

GCA officials didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

The deal with GCA was to have been the final piece in a plan to privatize facilities services in the nation’s third-largest school district.

That effort began in 2014, with CPS’ shiring of Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, and it was to be finalized on July 1, after years of complaints about schools’ cleanliness.

In December, CPS inspections found that 91 of 125 schools examined didn’t pass muster.

A year earlier, Aramark and Sodexo, which have CPS contracts together worth $650 million, had been handed oversight for facilities work at all but about 100 of CPS’s more than 500 schools.

In January 2017, CPS officials planned to hire a Detroit company for the rest of the city’s schools but backed out. That recommendation was pulled just hours before the Board of Ed’s agenda including that vote was finalized.

That work was rebid, and GCA and SodexoMAGIC were placed on the June 27 board agenda as the winners. But only SodexoMAGIC’s deal — for $168.6 million over three years — went forward. It was approved unanimously.



• CPS’ dirty secret, March 28, 2018

• Dirty schools: CPS cheated to pass cleanliness audits, janitors say, April 8, 2018

• Reward for dirty schools? $259 million more from the Chicago Public Schools, April 22, 2018

• Dirty schools unacceptable, Chicago Board of Ed says, vowing to keep closer tabs, April 26, 2018

• Chicago Public Schools’ facilities chief is out after dirty schools scandal, May 31, 2018

• 1 in 4 Chicago schools fails in new inspections spurred by dirty schools reports, July 4, 2018

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