July 2, 2020 Update

What has taken place in negotiations between Oberlin and the United Auto Workers over the last ten days?

After more than four months of complex and intensive negotiations with the United Auto Workers to see if the current custodial arrangement could meet Oberlin’s financial, operational and safety needs, the College made its final proposal to the union on June 22. On July 1, a day before its deadline to respond, the UAW notified the College that it would not take the College’s proposal to its membership for a vote.

As a result, Oberlin has exercised its previously negotiated right to contract with a vendor for custodial services.

What is driving the timing?

The College has provided as much time as possible for the union to respond to its needs for cost savings and the operational flexibility needed to keep Oberlin clean and safe in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The College outlined the contract changes it was seeking on May 28. After additional talks, the College formally presented its last, best and final proposal on June 22, asking for a response by June 29. When the union asked for an extension, the College moved the deadline for a response back to July 2.

With faculty and staff already returning to campus, and the return of students for the fall semester fast approaching, Oberlin must begin work as soon as possible to ensure the campus is clean and safe. After more than four months, there simply is no more time to continue talking.

Did the College give the UAW what it needed to respond?

When the union asked for additional time to consider the proposal, the College extended its deadline. When the union needed a larger venue for members to vote on the proposal, the College provided one. The College voluntarily gave UAW members time off from work to participate in voting.

What could not be resolved?

It’s unclear. During negotiations, the College accepted the UAW’s proposal on wages and the UAW’s wage range.  The College also detailed throughout the negotiations that for the agreement to be successful, the College would need a series of rules changes and operational flexibility to improve efficiency and guarantee a clean and safe campus in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the union leadership chose not to take the proposal to a vote of its members.

What comes next?

The College will exercise its previously negotiated right to contract with an outside vendor to provide custodial services and begin that work as soon as possible.

Will there be further negotiations with UAW?

The negotiations will now enter a new phase, as the UAW and Oberlin seek agreement about measures to mitigate and minimize disruption for dining and custodial employees.

Custodial Services

Who will take care of Oberlin’s custodial needs?

Oberlin has selected Scioto Services, an Ohio-based firm founded on the principles of treating its people with dignity and respect, while offering industry-competitive compensation and benefits. Scioto Services is now a part of the national facilities services company Marsden Services, bringing national expertise and economies of scale, while allowing Scioto the independence to tailor services to the needs of its area clients.

Why did Oberlin choose Scioto?

Scioto brought a mix of outstanding service, expertise, efficiency that will yield cost savings for Oberlin, and values that align with the College’s.

How did Covid-19 affect this decision?

The Covid-19 pandemic became a critical consideration for Oberlin in selecting a partner for custodial services. Ensuring campus facilities that are clean and safe will require experience, training, and a strong plan. Scioto will bring to bear expertise in emergency response services, decades of experience in sensitive environments, and the resources to adapt quickly to changing needs for disinfection, prevention and remediation, in addition to the highest standards for daily cleanliness and safety.

What is Scioto’s history?

Scioto was founded as a privately-owned company in 1975 by Thomas Kruse, Sr., in Columbus, Ohio. Kruse also served as Deputy Director of the Ohio Department of Labor Relations under former Governor Gilligan. According to the company, Kruse started Scioto because he felt the janitorial service industry underserved their workforce, and he felt he could make a difference. 

Will current custodial employees be able to work for Scioto?

Scioto will interview any of the current Oberlin custodial service employees who wish to apply with them.


June 22, 2020 Update

What is the status of negotiations between Oberlin and the United Auto Workers?

After the Feb. 18 announcement that the College was considering the use of vendors for certain services, the United Auto Workers, which represents Oberlin’s dining and custodial employees, and the College embarked on four months of complex and intensive negotiations to see if there were a way to meet Oberlin’s needs without using vendors to provide those services.   

How often have they met?

UAW and Oberlin representatives held 16 formal negotiations sessions and dozens of informal conversations.

What is the status of those talks?

As talks progressed, it became clear that dining and custodial services presented different challenges. On the custodial side, as of mid-June, the path to a possible agreement remains narrow but viable.

While talks over custodial services continue, the union has been unable to present a proposal for College-staffed dining services that addresses Oberlin’s financial needs and operational flexibility, while guaranteeing the high level of service and safety we must offer as we adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What happens next in custodial services negotiations?

On June 22, Oberlin presented the UAW with its final proposal regarding an in-sourced custodial services and asked the UAW to put those terms to a membership vote.

What happens next in dining services negotiations?

On June 22, the College informed the union that it would exercise its previously negotiated right to use a vendor for dining services. The negotiations will now enter a new phase, as the UAW and Oberlin seek agreement about measures to mitigate and minimize disruption for dining employees.

What is Oberlin’s goal in the next phase of dining services negotiations?

Subject to those negotiations, the College hopes to help those dining employees who are not hired by the new dining services vendor with outplacement services, severance packages and support comparable to other staff reductions over the last year.

Will the vendor hire any of the current College employees to staff dining at Oberlin?

AVI, the vendor Oberlin has selected for dining, has agreed to interview any current Oberlin dining services employees who wish to continue working here for AVI, and consider them for employment at their current rate of pay.
UPDATE, July 8: After meeting with student leaders, AVI committed to extending offers of employment to Oberlin dining staff who apply, complete AVI's pre-hire process, and wish to join AVI. On July 8 AVI held the first of two information sessions for current Oberlin dining employees.

What is AVI’s stance toward unions?

AVI will set the terms of employment for its staff, in accordance with local, state, and federal laws. AVI has a history of working well with unions at other client sites. That track record, as well as its values around the wellbeing of its employees, make AVI a good partner for Oberlin.

Dining Services

What is the future of dining services at Oberlin College?

Oberlin will engage a new dining partner that we believe will help Oberlin create a very robust dining program, while reducing costs to the College and investing in upgraded facilities.

Who will provide those services?

Oberlin has selected AVI Fresh, a family-owned, Ohio-based provider known for its outstanding food and service. You can read more about AVI here.

Why did Oberlin choose AVI?

AVI employs unionized staff at a number of its client sites, uses locally sourced food options, is skilled at accommodating a variety of dining needs, and has a track record of outstanding service, provided in consultation with students, faculty and staff at peer institutions we know well.

What financial benefits does this partnership provide to Oberlin?

In addition to controlling costs in a key area of Oberlin’s operations, AVI has also agreed to invest $6 million to upgrade Oberlin’s dining facilities during the term of the contract.

How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect dining services?

As we all adapt to campus life in the ongoing pandemic, Oberlin will benefit from AVI’s expertise and strong track record in food safety. AVI has developed a comprehensive plan called Welcome BACK to ensure it provides clients with dining services in a safe, responsible and effective manner. AVI maintains a robust firstLINE Safety System that ensures service in accordance with our advanced health, food and physical safety standards. The most critical element of the Welcome BACK! plan is the addition of the new training, protocols and procedures to protect AVI employees and guests. More details on safety-oriented changes to dining at Oberlin will be shared later this summer.

What is AVI’s history?

AVI is 100% owned by the Payiavlas family. The company started in 1960 when founder John Payiavlas, acquired a few vending machines from a friend. The company differentiated itself with homemade “from scratch” fresh foods for his refrigerated vending machines. From those modest means, AVI has grown into the largest private, independent, family-owned and operated foodservice company in the United States. AVI does not have other shareholders and is not a subsidiary of any other company.

What are AVI’s plans for Oberlin?

AVI prides itself on preparing fresh food from scratch, using clean, quality ingredients, and incorporating local, regional and global authentic flavors.

What about special food needs?

AVI will work closely with Oberlin students, faculty, and staff to meet the College’s high standards for special food needs, whether cultural or health-related. All allergens will be clearly identified and AVI will offer a wide range of allergen-free and gluten-sensitive menu items.

Who are other AVI clients in higher education?

AVI provides dining services to other prestigious liberal arts schools nationally, including The Juilliard School in New York City, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY and Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. With headquarters in Warren, OH, AVI and the Payiavlas family have a particularly strong and long-standing history of supporting client-partners in Northeast Ohio. Today, AVI serves a number of colleges and universities in Ohio, including Kenyon College, Hiram College, Lourdes University, Malone University, Tiffin University and the University of Mount Union.

Will AVI hire current Oberlin dining employees?

AVI committed to extending offers of employment to Oberlin dining staff who apply, complete AVI's pre-hire process, and wish to join AVI. On July 8 AVI held the first of two information sessions for current Oberlin dining employees.

What is AVI’s track record with union workforces?

AVI welcomes and appreciates its team members’ right to be represented and approaches union relationships as a positive opportunity. Currently, approximately 13% of AVI team members are represented by various unions including Teamsters, SEIU, UNITE HERE and the Joint Board. AVI currently works with the UAW in other accounts where they represent team members. AVI has taken the first step by reaching out to the UAW to begin establishing a relationship at Oberlin.


February 19, 2020 Update

As Oberlin College & Conservatory continues to take steps toward long-term financial sustainability, the college is formally considering a comprehensive plan to contract with outside vendors for dining and housekeeping services currently performed by Oberlin employees. This change would help the institution focus on its educational and academic mission, improve service, and create significant cost-savings in the long run. The following FAQ addresses a variety of issues related to this proposed change.

Why is Oberlin considering contracting with vendors for dining and custodial staffing?

Over the last two years Oberlin has taken essential steps to ensure that it continues to fulfill its distinctive mission as a leading liberal arts college and conservatory of music. Some of this is reflected in exciting new programming announced over the last few months. Other efforts have required shared sacrifice as we face unprecedented financial and demographics challenges, including an unsustainable structural deficit.

Yet there is more we must do. The new educational opportunities, together with the sacrifices so many of you across campus have made, will not guarantee long-term success. We must continue to refocus resources to support Oberlin’s core mission. This will require further difficult trade-offs, and it will touch additional parts of our campus.

We believe this plan would fulfill a critical part of that need. This is a key piece of our plan to ensure the financial sustainability, accessibility, and excellence of this institution.

How important are these cost savings?

By 2018 Oberlin had been running deficits for several consecutive years. Without the significant actions taken in FY 2018 and FY 2019, as well as the additional reductions called for in One Oberlin, the cumulative deficit would have grown to a devastating $162 million by FY 2028 — greater than the total annual operating budget, and an existential threat to the institution. Each year that goes by without correcting that trend, Oberlin’s options dwindle — the time to act is now.

Why dining and custodial?

63 percent of our budget is dedicated to employee compensation. We have already taken a number of steps to manage compensation costs: We have reduced our healthcare benefits, our retirement benefits, and the size of our administrative staff — all financial levers identified in the One Oberlin report. We have contracted tenure track faculty lines and are relying less on visiting faculty. But to ensure our excellence, we must continue to address the largest share of our budget while we simultaneously invest in our future.

Dining services and custodial services represent two significant operational costs for Oberlin. As a relatively small institution, Oberlin cannot realize the economies of scale or levels of service achieved by outside organizations that specialize in food service and custodial service.

Isn’t this a big step?

This is not a decision we take lightly. We understand the gravity of this change for those directly affected; they are valued members of our community, and we are taking significant steps to help these individuals make a successful transition. We also understand that this will affect other members of campus community, and we are working to communicate with transparency about the process that is underway, and about the urgent need behind it.

Why not cut elsewhere?

Over the past few years we have been working to make $17.3M in reductions by 2025.  These current efforts are just a part of the overall reduction plan even as we simultaneously invest in our core mission.  This current effort also comes after several years of pay freezes and benefits reductions amounting to $5.5 million in compensation for faculty and administrative and professional staff. The equivalent of at least 25 full-time faculty positions will have been eliminated by FY2024 in addition to the elimination of some visiting faculty positions.  Additionally, 50 administrative and professional staff positions will have been eliminated by FY2024. We are committed to ensuring that no single category of employees bears the burden for cost reductions alone, including those who have already made sacrifices.

How is this consistent with Oberlin’s values?

Oberlin has put its priority on building excellence in its core mission while ensuring the financial sustainability needed to serve generations of students to come. At a time of financial pressure on students, families, and the institution itself, Oberlin will undertake the mission-centered activities the institution can best provide, while using outside expertise where partners can improve service and conserve resources.

What happens with the money Oberlin saves?

As noted, the long-term savings realized through this plan make up one step toward correcting years of operating deficits. But in order to fulfill its mission in the world and offer the distinctive education that will shape future generations of students, it is not enough for the institution simply to balance the budget in the near term. To generate the tuition revenue needed for long-term sustainability, Oberlin must invest in new programming. And as higher education undergoes a time of transformation, these investments in the academic and creative endeavors are critical to preparing our students for lives of purpose and adding to human knowledge and experience.

What happens if Oberlin does not take this step?

Through the Academic and Administrative Program Review last year, the campus community identified several cuts it would not make, such as eliminating academic departments, reducing financial aid available to students, or sacrificing key elements of the Conservatory, the Art Museum, the College, and our residential experience. If Oberlin is unable to make sufficient reductions in other parts of the operating budget, it will become harder and harder to guard those valued elements at the core of our mission.

Is this connected to a need to pay the Gibson’s judgment?

This effort is completely independent of the Gibson judgment and is directly connected to the need to support Oberlin’s mission and improve the College’s operating budget as identified by President Ambar in her first few months on campus.  The Gibson’s matter is now on appeal and therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further.

Who will undertake the services currently offered by Oberlin’s employees?

We will carefully examine the options available, seeking requests for proposals to secure the very best services and value available to Oberlin, while achieving a transition that is consistent with our core values. Because we are sharing the news of this plan at a very early stage, we have only begun preliminary conversations about those options. As the process of identifying best options, negotiating with vendors, and securing contracts develops in the weeks and months to come, we will update the campus community on key steps.

How many Oberlin employees will be affected?

Roughly 52 full-time dining employees of Oberlin could be directly affected by these plans, along with roughly 56 full-time custodial employees. Final counts will depend on the number of positions filled at the time of the transition.

What will happen to those employees?

For those who cannot or do not want to work with the vendors, Oberlin will work with the UAW to discuss what steps can be taken to ease this transition. Some employees will be eligible for retirement. Through their collective bargaining contracts, some may be eligible for other employment at Oberlin.

It is our hope that employees would be offered the opportunity to seek employment with the new vendors and continue working at Oberlin. For those who cannot or do not want to work with the vendors, Oberlin will provide outplacement support. For those who do not quickly find employment, we anticipate providing support and severance that is in keeping with other Oberlin employees who were displaced in FY2020.

How much will this save?

Based on preliminary conversations, we expect the college can realize $2 million in annual savings per year collectively in dining and custodial operations.

What will the cost of the transition be?

In order to minimize disruption and to ensure a seamless transition of services, we expect to incur one-time costs in 2020. We will work with vendors to minimize these upfront costs, but we believe that these short-term reductions in savings are worth the opportunity to reinforce our values of employee fairness; service to our students, faculty, and staff; and excellence in all that we do.

How were employees notified?

Because dining and custodial employees are represented by the UAW, this process begins with official notification to union leadership, which was provided on Feb. 18. Senior administrators then met face-to-face with affected employees at meetings on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19, to inform them of the transition under consideration and answer questions. This sets in motion a period of negotiation between Oberlin and the UAW, which is the appropriate forum for discussions with this group of employees.

While legal notification to the union is required, the college chose to provide it months earlier than is required for the transition under consideration. We did this out of respect for the employees, to allow them ample time to learn about their options and make their plans. This is part of a larger commitment to make the transition in a way that is considerate and respectful of these employees, who are members of the Oberlin community, and whose service we appreciate.

How was the campus community notified?

After union leadership and the affected employees were notified on Feb. 18, President Carmen Ambar sent an email to all Oberlin students, faculty, staff, and alumni, laying out the plan under consideration, the rationale, and the context for this step. President Ambar and other senior leaders then met with groups of students, faculty, staff, and alumni that afternoon; local officials and community leaders were also notified in phone calls that afternoon. A website containing President Ambar’s emails, this FAQ, and other relevant information was posted that day as well.

Choosing to inform the entire college community openly and directly, at the very beginning of the process, means that some questions cannot yet be answered. Key information will be developed as part of the collective bargaining process and potentially through the process of soliciting and evaluating vendor proposals – neither of which has yet begun. President Ambar and senior leaders felt it was more important to be open and forthcoming with the campus community as these conversations begin, out of respect for the campus community, and with an understanding that a significant step like the one under consideration here affects the whole community. Building on the spirit of transparency, data-based discussion, and mutual respect that has guided the entire One Oberlin process, the college will continue to provide updates as they become available.

Is this plan part of One Oberlin?

Last year’s Academic and Administrative Program Review, and the resulting One Oberlin report and recommendations, made clear the urgent need for the institution to reduce operating expenses. The report also identified employee compensation as the institution’s single biggest cost, called out the levers for change that are available, and provided valuable background about Oberlin’s cost structure compared to peer institutions. One Oberlin, however, did not make recommendations in favor of any specific reduction in employee compensation.

Are the affected employees represented by unions?

Yes — both the dining and custodial employees affected are represented by the United Auto Workers.

How does that affect this plan?

Because both dining and custodial employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements, we have notified the union that we are formally considering this option and have asked to schedule these negotiations.

Will this eliminate the union?

No. The UAW will continue to represent other groups of employees at Oberlin, and we look forward to continuing good relations with all of Oberlin’s employee unions.

Will the employees hired by the vendors be unionized?

It will ultimately be up to the vendors and their employees to decide upon the nature of their relationship, which will depend on a variety of factors.

What is Oberlin’s goal for custodial and dining services?

In order to support its primary mission of teaching, learning, scholarship, and creativity, Oberlin is committed to providing a campus environment that is safe, clean, and sustaining, providing an environment in which our students, faculty, and staff can do their best work.

How will this plan affect the level of service?

By selecting vendors with national experience and a specialized focus on providing these services, we believe we can improve the safety, cleanliness, and the quality of residential and work life for Oberlin students, faculty, and staff. That, in turn, will benefit student recruitment and retention — important elements in our effort to build long-term excellence at Oberlin.

How do we believe the vendors will be able to provide services at a lower cost?

Savings are realized through the vendors’ ability to align compensation with market rates, while achieving greater efficiencies and economies of scale — benefits of their industry expertise, national reach, and singular focus on these services.

Have other colleges tried this?

Throughout higher education, hundreds of institutions have found that they can manage institutional costs and improve outcomes by employing outside vendors to perform services that are not part of the institutions’ core expertise.

How does this plan address the safety of the campus community?

The safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors is our top priority. Oberlin will work closely with potential vendors to ensure that any employees they bring to campus will respect and contribute to that safe environment. Oberlin requires background checks of its own employees, permanent and temporary. Oberlin’s vendors conduct background checks of their permanent and temporary employees who work on campus. Such safeguards will be a priority in any negotiations with future vendors.

How will this affect students employed in dining services?

There is no immediate effect on student employees. While the details of student employment would be worked out in negotiations with potential vendors, we anticipate and intend that the same sorts of opportunities for student employment that are available now would be available in any new arrangement.

Will Oberlin consider replacing other groups of employees with outside vendors?

While we have to continue to consider all options for controlling costs in years to come, we do not anticipate similar transitions on this scale beyond custodial and dining services. We hope that this will pave the way for a period of sustainability and stability in years to come.