July 8, 2020

Background and Key Facts Regarding Oberlin’s Dining and Custodial Workforce Negotiations

The College’s recent decisions regarding dining and custodial work stem from Oberlin’s efforts to establish a strategy for financial resiliency and the pursuit of the institution’s core mission.

In 2019, Oberlin embarked on a path to invest in academic excellence and ensure financial sustainability, resulting in the One Oberlin plan.

More than 80 percent of the General Faculty endorsed the plan, which Trustees unanimously approved. One Oberlin laid out the rationale for shared financial sacrifice across campus, including multiple years of pay freezes, benefits changes, position reductions, operating budget cuts, and more. Those needs became more acute with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which compounded financial pressures, and added the need to address new safety concerns for students, faculty, and staff.

The One Oberlin report highlighted the need to reduce the fast-growing costs of employee compensation. Subsequent analysis showed that part of this savings, amounting to more than $2 million a year, could be achieved through the use of outside vendors for dining and custodial services, while improving the level of service.

In February 2020, Oberlin announced it was strongly considering using vendors for dining and custodial services. According to the contract negotiated with the United Auto Workers in 2017, which represented dining and custodial employees at Oberlin, the College had the right to unilaterally declare it was outsourcing this work. Instead, the College agreed to negotiate, in a good-faith effort to explore all options.

More than four months of negotiations followed, including 16 formal bargaining sessions, dozens of informal correspondences and conversations, and numerous information requests. At the outset of the process, the College made clear in both writing and verbally that it needed both savings and work rule changes, such as the ability to assign staff to work where needed and bring in outside help when needed.

The College outlined its final position on May 28. The union made its only formal proposal on June 9.

Through discussions, it became clear that the union could not match the financial savings offered over time by a dining vendor. As for the custodial workers, the College accepted the UAW’s proposal on wages and the UAW’s wage range. But discussions focusing on work rules that would be needed to give Oberlin the flexibility necessary to ensure a safe and clean campus were not fruitful.

With faculty and staff returning to campus in July, and students returning in August, under the highly challenging and changed conditions brought on by COVID19, the College could not continue open-ended discussions. On June 22, the College announced that it had decided to use a vendor for dining services, and presented its last, best, and final offer on custodial services, asking the UAW to present the offer to its members for a vote by June 29.

The content of the offer was familiar, as the proposal followed the outline provided at the end of May. In response to UAW requests for more time to consider the offer, the College extended its deadline to July 2, provided the use of multiple venues for a safe membership vote, and offered employees time off to take part in a vote. After indicating in writing to the College that it would bring the proposal to its members for a vote, the union notified the College on July 1 that it would not put the proposal to a membership vote. The next day, the College announced its intention to use a vendor for custodial services.

Both vendors selected – AVI Fresh for dining, Scioto Services for custodial – have announced that they will interview any current Oberlin employee who wishes to work for them on campus. AVI has announced that it plans to offer employees who move over from College dining services wages comparable to what they were previously making. Oberlin, meanwhile, has asked to engage the UAW in discussions on how to minimize and mitigate disruption for the affected employees. Pending those discussions, the College intends to offer support similar to what it has given non-union employees whose jobs have been eliminated, including severance, extended benefits, and outplacement services.

Key facts about the negotiation process

  • The College was not required to enter into negotiations with the United Auto Workers. The current contract allows the College to outsource this work without negotiating. Recognizing the need to achieve savings and efficiencies, the College agreed to pursue both negotiations with the union and an RFP selection process to ensure that all options for the 2020-2021 academic year were available.

  • The UAW is aware of this aspect of the contract. The College made the announcement that it was considering outsourcing in February to provide as much advance notice as possible for those potentially affected.

  • From the beginning, the College was clear about the need for both financial and work rule adjustments. The college discussed these matters throughout the four-month negotiation process.

  • The new dining vendor, AVI Services, is family owned, based in Warren, Ohio, and has experience employing union workers. The company has agreed to interview former Oberlin employees, pay employees a rate comparable to their previous compensation and invest $6 million into Oberlin facilities over the life of the contract.

  • The last, best and final offer the College provided the UAW negotiating team included the financial package and wage scale the union had suggested during bargaining. It also included work rules the College had previously discussed.

  • If the union members had been allowed to vote on and had approved the custodial contract, Oberlin was prepared to move forward and work within an improvement operational structure to meet the heightened health and safety requirements for the College’s facilities.

  • The work rule adjustments the College proposed were referenced in the outline provided on May 28 to the union negotiating team and included such measures as being able to assign workers to areas where they were needed, and being able to evaluate the performance of employees.

  • The College provided its last, best and final offer on June 22 and suggested it be submitted to UAW membership for a vote by June 29. In response to UAW requests for more time, the College extended its deadline to July 2, provided the use of multiple venues for a safe membership vote, and offered employees time off to vote.

  • After indicating it would bring the proposal to a vote, the union notified the College on July 1 that it would not present the offer to its members. The next day, the College announced its intention to use a vendor for custodial services.

  • The College will now enter into effects bargaining, where it will negotiate the terms to help employees during this transition period.

  • The College is encouraging all affected employees to consider the opportunity to request interviews with AVI or Scioto, as appropriate.

  • One of the College’s priorities is to prepare for the full reopening of campus and the enhanced cleaning and changed dining services that will be required in the era of COVID‑19.


July 2, 2020

Dear Members of the Oberlin Community,

Last week I wrote to you about the College’s ongoing efforts to ensure financial sustainability and provide outstanding service across a variety of operations, including custodial services. In pursuit of that goal, which is critical to fulfilling Oberlin’s mission for the next generation, the College undertook 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 needs.

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. For instance, the College sought the abilities to assign staff to work areas based on current needs and to delineate specific duties in those areas and evaluate staff performance. We would continue to bring in expert help for emergency remediation.

The College outlined the contract changes it was seeking on May 28 and made its last, best and final proposal to the UAW on June 22. As part of that proposal, the College asked for a response in a week, and at the request of the union, extended the consideration period to July 2. 

Last night the union provided the disappointing news that it would not take the proposal to a vote of its members. So, with the return of students fast approaching, we must now move forward. Today Oberlin informed the union that the College will exercise its previously negotiated right to engage with a vendor for custodial services.

I am pleased to tell you that 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. Now a part of the national facilities services company Marsden Services, 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. Scioto also offers high standards for environmental sustainability, employing a proprietary system that meets the stringent requirements for LEED-EB certification.

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

The College will now enter a new phase of negotiations with the UAW about measures to mitigate and minimize disruption for current custodial employees. Subject to those negotiations, we hope to help those employees who are not hired by Scioto with outplacement services, severance packages and support comparable to other staff reductions over the last year.

Our commitment to the path set forth in the One Oberlin plan has been challenging yet necessary. The pandemic has made this more difficult. We remain committed to providing the appropriate financial and institutional support necessary to respond to the needs of our community members who face a transition. And we know that, while painful, these changes are critical steps to ensuring Oberlin can adapt to the challenges of the coming year and thrive in for many years to follow.

Sincerely,

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President


June 22, 2020

Dear members of the Oberlin community,

In February, I announced that as a necessary part of our commitment to fulfill Oberlin’s mission for the next generation, ensure financial sustainability, and provide outstanding service, the College had decided to consider alternatives to its dining and custodial operations. After this announcement, 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. Over the course of the 16 formal negotiations sessions it became clear that dining and custodial presented different challenges.

On the custodial side, our path forward 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.

So today I write to inform you that 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. 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. 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.

AVI 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. AVI’s history of working well with unions, as well as its values around the wellbeing of its employees, make the company a good partner for Oberlin. AVI has also agreed to invest $6 million to upgrade Oberlin’s dining facilities during the term of the contract. And as we adapt campus life to the ongoing pandemic, Oberlin will benefit from AVI’s expertise and strong track record in food safety.  

For custodial services, the College continues to seek a path to meet its financial needs and provide outstanding service. Today Oberlin presented the UAW with its final proposal regarding an insourced custodial services and asked the UAW to put those terms to a membership vote. In the meantime, we will enter a new phase of negotiations with the UAW about measures to mitigate and minimize disruption for dining employees. Subject to those negotiations, we hope to help those employees who are not hired by AVI with outplacement services, severance packages and support comparable to other staff reductions over the last year.

A workforce reduction is a difficult decision under any circumstances, but we are committed to providing the appropriate financial and institutional support necessary to respond to the needs of our community members who face this transition.   

Sincerely,

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President


April 21, 2020

Joint Statement on United Auto Workers and Oberlin College Negotiations

For the past several weeks, Oberlin College and the United Auto Workers have engaged in negotiations regarding the contracts of custodial and dining services workers that expire September 30. These discussions are continuing.

Meanwhile, no union members have been forced into layoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The College and UAW have maintained minimal operations on campus, where about 250 students remain, since Governor Mike DeWine issued his stay-at-home order on March 22.

The health and safety of all people on campus is a priority concern and both the UAW and the College have worked hard to adhere to safety protocols. Social distancing, hand washing and other personal health measures are strongly encouraged. Those who feel ill or have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above, are told to remain home.

In this unprecedented situation, it is important that methods to improve health and safety on campus be consistently re-evaluated for potential improvement.

It is possible for two parties to disagree on issues and still work constructively to resolve their differences.

Thank you to the healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers who are performing their professional duties during this pandemic.

Chris Freeman
UAW International Representative, Local 2192

Joe Vitale
Chief Human Resources Officer, Oberlin College


February 18, 2020

To: Oberlin faculty, students, and staff

From: Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Subject: Dining and Custodial Negotiations


Over the last two years we have taken a number of essential steps together to ensure that we continue to fulfill our distinctive mission as a leading liberal arts college and conservatory of music: namely, educating our students for lives of meaning.

Our efforts have made possible strategic investments and have required shared sacrifices, as we have faced unprecedented financial and demographics challenges, including an unsustainable structural deficit.

Our work to eliminate this deficit has included changes in our healthcare benefits, our retirement benefits, and the size of our administrative staff — all financial levers identified in the One Oberlin report endorsed by the General Faculty and adopted by the Board of Trustees. We have contracted tenure track faculty lines and are relying less on visiting faculty. While these changes have been difficult, they will allow us to establish a firmer financial foundation for decades to come.

Yet there is more that we must do. As you will recall, 63 percent of our budget is dedicated to compensation. To ensure our excellence, we must continue to address the largest share of our budget while we simultaneously invest in our future.

Against that backdrop, Oberlin has notified the United Auto Workers that we are formally considering contracting with outside vendors for dining and custodial services currently provided by college employees. This would affect roughly 52 full-time dining employees and 56 full-time custodial employees, depending on the number of filled positions this summer, when the transition would occur. This step is permitted under our UAW contract, and we will begin collective bargaining with the UAW in coming weeks to determine how best to move forward.

Over the long term, these changes could save a critical $1 million a year in the operational costs of the dining program, and potentially another $1 million or more a year in custodial services, as potential vendors are better able to reach economies of scale based on their size and expertise.

We expect our potential vendors’ deep experience would help us achieve improved levels of service for our students, faculty, and staff. Oberlin, like many college campuses that have made this decision, would thereafter be able to focus our resources on the mission-centered activities the institution can best provide, investing in the academic and creative endeavors that prepare our students for lives of purpose.

This is not a decision we take lightly. We recognize the disruption and anxiety this process will cause members of our Oberlin family. We are providing early notice to the union because we respect their commitment to Oberlin, and so that affected employees would have an extended period of time to plan. Throughout the spring, we will continue to have discussions with the union, work closely with potential vendors, and work with affected employees themselves to provide the best options and opportunities.

It is our hope that many employees will be given the opportunity to interview for jobs with the newly selected vendors. It is possible that some affected employees may choose retirement because of their eligibility. Through their collective bargaining contracts, a smaller group may be eligible for other employment at Oberlin. For those who are not re-employed with the potential vendors, Oberlin would provide outplacement support. It is possible some people would not find employment quickly. In these cases, we would provide transition support and severance negotiated with the UAW.

We also understand that this will affect the rest of our campus community. Yet we must make difficult choices to ensure the long-term health of the institution, and we must make them soon. Each year that goes by without fully securing financial sustainability reduces the options available to Oberlin.

For those who want to know more about this process, we have a website that provides more detailed information. We have posted information at www.oberlin.edu/custodial-dining-workforce-updates, including an extensive set of frequently asked questions. Of course, the website is not exhaustive, as some of the outcomes will be based on conversations with the unions and potential vendors. We will update the campus community at appropriate points in our planning and in our negotiations with the UAW and with potential vendors.

While we will continue to consider a variety of options for managing institutional cost and investments, we are not planning additional changes like those described in this letter.

As challenging as these considerations are, it is important to keep in mind that our collective efforts have begun to demonstrate results. Our admission classes the past two years have been the largest in the past six years. We have been able to invest in new academic programs, Winter Term, Career Communities, Connect Cleveland, faculty salaries and more. Meanwhile, we have kept sacrosanct our commitment to financial aid to ensure diversity. The breadth and depth of our liberal arts and conservatory educations have been protected, as have academic programs. We have preserved core institutional elements of the College, the Conservatory, the Art Museum, and the residential experience.

We believe that taken holistically, the efforts to manage our costs, to invest in our future, and to build educational momentum and leadership will pave the way for a period of sustainability and stability.

Sincerely,

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President, Oberlin College