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Aramark adjusts plan, retaining 178 custodians

This article was originally published on October 1, 2014.

The union representing private custodians who clean Chicago Public Schools buildings said Tuesday it had told Aramark and CPS months ago that schools could not afford to lose 468 custodians and maintain the same level of cleanliness.

But president Tom Balanoff acknowledged Tuesday the situation was improving. Aramark on Tuesday reversed its decision on some of those dismissals, retaining 178 custodians. That reversal, and Aramark’s promised technological upgrades, made things manageable, Balanoff said.

“We think this will create a good level of cleanliness,” he said by telephone, “but we’ll see.”

The reversal of some layoffs comes in the wake of Board of Education promises to resolve numerous complaints from principals, the Chicago Teachers Union and a parent group about dirty conditions and delayed responses from new managers at Aramark.

“The principals’ report obviously raised a lot of concerns,” Balanoff said by telephone. “We were a little bit surprised because the layoffs hadn’t yet happened. We did expect once the layoffs happened, this question about whether they laid off too deep . . . would have played out.”

Balanoff informed the affected 468 members Monday in a robocall that the most senior 178 were not lose their jobs, and the remaining 290 could stay at work through the end of October instead of the end of Tuesday’s shift.

“I hope this extra time to find new employment alleviates some of your hardship,” Balanoff told them in the call.

Of the 178, 83 will keep their jobs with the current employers, and 95 will work until the end of the school year, be laid off for two months in the summer, and then be rehired in the fall, the union said.

An Aramark spokeswoman confirmed the news Monday night, saying in an email: “Chicago Public Schools, Aramark and SEIU Local 1 continue to work closely to make sure all CPS schools have appropriate custodial staffing levels to ensure clean schools.”

Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said CPS, Aramark and SEIU Local “collectively determined the staffing model necessary to deliver clean schools,” denying the change in numbers was a reversal. She said Aramark has added 56 managers to help during the transition, who have met with more than 350 CPS principals so far. She would not comment on savings netted from the layoffs until the transition plan is complete.

The president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, which conducted a survey of principals in August and found most schools were dirtier since Aramark took over, called the whole rollout a “manmade disaster.”

That was before the layoffs, said Clarice Berry, adding, “It’s still too deep a cut for the level of need in the schools.”

Especially since, she said, flu season is coming.

CPS hired Aramark in March on a three-year, $280 million contract to manage about 2,500 janitors systemwide; about 1,700 of those are SEIU Local 1 members.