Guelph Mercury – October 9, 2015
University of Guelph campus in ‘unkempt neglect,’ union claims
GUELPH — The union representing custodial staff at the University of Guelph says the school has significantly reduced its cleaning budget and it has left the campus in a state of “unkempt neglect.”
Janice Folk-Dawson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1334, which represents custodians and other trades and maintenance workers at U of G, said the school is trying to save money it spends on cleaning and that has led to huge issues on campus.
“Things are at a state of unkempt neglect,” said Folk-Dawson. “The university does not have a cleaning standard in place that you would expect to find in a public building.”
Folk-Dawson said this is a result of the university going for years with more than 20 unfilled vacancies for custodians — all at a period where the square footage of areas to be cleaned on campus and the student population on campus have increased significantly.
She said this has been done strategically by the university as a cost-savings measure and it has resulted in things such as some garbage receptacles on campus only being emptied weekly.
“There’s dust in the hallways and the windows are unclean,” said Folk-Dawson.
What’s more, she said, the changes in staffing and the sanctioning of lesser cleaning standards have resulted in the elimination of “project cleaning,” such as wiping down phones or other frequently touched surfaces. This has created elevated health and safety risks for university staff and students, she said.
Don O’Leary, a U of G vice-president, disputed Folk-Dawson’s claims about a lack of cleanliness at the institution.
The University of Guelph “maintains cleaning standards at a level comparable to other universities, which is certainly well above an ‘unkempt neglect’ level,” he said. “All University of Guelph CUPE members work very hard every day, doing their best to provide clean buildings and a beautiful campus environment.”
O’Leary allowed, however, that budget issues at U of G have led the institution to have discussions with CUPE about how operating costs could be reduced.
“All universities have to make decisions to provide the best educational experience and environment possible within the financial resources available. There’s no question that as operating costs increase at a pace greater than revenues, decision-making is sometimes difficult.
“There have been discussions with University of Guelph CUPE representatives about the university’s financial challenges,” O’Leary stated.
Folk-Dawson said it’s the union’s understanding that U of G is seeking to find about $1.7 million in savings in its cleaning budget and wishes to explore contracting out of this service.
“We’re talking to the student body about this. It’s something we’re very concerned about,” she said.
O’Leary did not respond to a question seeking comment on CUPE’s claim that the university is seeking $1.7 million in savings in its cleaning budget. But, he said, there has never been a discussion about replacing CUPE employees with a contractor.
“The university has an employment responsibility to CUPE, which will always be honoured,” said O’Leary.
O’Leary said the institution has raised “several service improvement ideas” with the union, such as supplementing custodial work with non-CUPE employees. This “could be one alternative to resolving the current custodial vacancies,” he said.
Folk-Dawson said the university has already moved to using more temp workers as nighttime cleaners and this has resulted in problems as these cleaners are less accountable for the work assigned to them.
Folk-Dawson made the comments Thursday, the day after CUPE charged the same issues were live ones at several Ontario university campuses.
A statement issued by CUPE and the Ontario University Workers’ Coordinating Committee on Wednesday asserted: “To cover the gap created by chronic government underfunding, universities have targeted custodial staff — one of the most precarious groups of campus workers — by lowering cleanliness standards, leaving front-line custodial positions unfilled and limiting access to supplies while increasing the number of students and senior administration.”
“It is outrageous that government underfunding has universities embracing ‘unkempt neglect’ as a cleaning standard to aspire to while tuition soars,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario.
Hahn also noted “underfunding of post-secondary education should be on the minds of every Canadian as they vote in the federal election” and urged voters to back the NDP for that reason.
Folk-Dawson said about 10 years ago U of G had about 180 custodians and a student population of about 12,000. Now, she said, it has about 120 custodians and about 20,000 students.