Guilford College outsources housekeeping management

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Starting in May, Guilford College will be outsourcing the management of its housekeeping staff, though the College will retain the same housekeeping employees.

“In terms of the organization of it, what we’re doing is contracting it out, and all of the individuals that work for us will just be remaining, probably doing exactly what they’re doing now,” said Vice President of Administration and Finance Len Sippel. “Other than that, they’re going to have management by people who actually know what they’re doing.”

Instead of working for Guilford, housekeepers will now work for WFF Facility Services, a housekeeping company based in Missouri. Guilford will enter into a two-year contract with WFF on May 7, which may be extended for an additional two to four years.

“Our business is higher education,” said Vice President for Marketing Roger Degerman. “Housekeeping is not our core business and core expertise. The group that we partnered with, this is what they specialize in, higher education custodial services.”

The shift in management will result in changes for Guilford housekeeping staff. Long-time employees, some of whom have more than 10 years of experience at Guilford, will now be starting as introductory employees, losing their achieved seniority.

Although housekeepers are losing their seniority, they will stay on their current pay grade. WFF Facility Services will now provide benefits, which will reflect the market average.

“I left a job to come to Guilford for the benefits,” said a housekeeper who declined to share their name. “Now it’s like I should’ve just stayed there.”

Some benefits, like Guilford’s tuition remission program, which allows full-time employees and their dependents to take classes at Guilford at a reduced price, will still be provided by Guilford. In addition, housekeeping staff will be monetarily compensated for any vacation days or other days off they had accrued before the switch in management.

The change in management for Guilford’s housekeeping staff comes after the former director of building services, Gerald Little, resigned in March following an investigation into allegations of harassment leveled against him.

Little’s conduct prompted two Guilford alums, Khadija Carr ’15 and Alexandra Haridopolos, who worked in the summer with the housekeeping department, to write letters on May 31, 2017 and email them to Amy Barnes, the interim director of human resources at the time.

The letters accuse Little of requiring housekeepers to do work outside their regular duties and threatening to fire them if they didn’t comply. They also level allegations of harassment against Little and accuse him of speaking to his staff in a disrespectful manner.

“Mr. Little speaks to his staff with extreme disrespect, does not care about their well-being and has them work without adequate supplies,” wrote Carr in the letter.

Haridopolos expressed similar ideas.

“Not only does Mr. Little not take care of his staff’s work-related needs, he openly shows and tells them he does not care or think much of them,” wrote Haridopolos in the letter.

Haridopolos’ letter also referenced an incident in the summer of 2014. According to Haridopolos, Little interrupted a Title IX training where she was translating information into Spanish for the housekeeping staff. Little entered and ordered the staff to return to work.

Little believes he was doing his job correctly.

“Every time I did a corrective action on somebody, there were particular people that would go to Human Resources,” said Little. “And this would happen several times in the past, and each time Human Resources found me doing my job correctly.”

According to Little, he resigned from his position because of management difficulties.

“I just think that it was becoming too difficult to manage the housekeeping department. The staff that I had, I think that they thought that I was a little bit hard on them,” said Little. “I just wanted them to do their job.

“So I just decided it wasn’t for me any longer.”

Guilford administration did not comment on why Little resigned. However, several administration members expressed hope about the future of housekeeping at Guilford under the WFF Facility Services contract.

“I think that under the contract, (students) will see some nice improvements,” said Sippel. “One of the things is that we will have actually porter service during the day, after 12 o’clock, and we’re also going to have weekend service.

“What that means is that you have a housekeeper that during the day can go to restock things.”

The new contract may allow Guilford to save money on salary costs in the long run. When employees retire or leave Guilford, new employees will be brought in at WFF’s starting pay rate, which is lower than Guilford’s.

However, some Guilford community members feel that the shift in management does not reflect Guilford’s core values. On April 20, students organized a protest in solidarity with the housekeeping staff, which more than 50 people attended. The protest influenced the creation of a petition for greater community involvement in campus decision-making, which now has approximately 200 signatures.

“I think this speaks to the fact that there is a critical mass of people disappointed, to put it mildly, in what we see as a failure to uphold our values,” wrote juniors Sam Sachs and Kate Nunke in a letter to Guilford College President Jane Fernandes. “There’s tremendous frustration around a lack of transparency and a feeling that yourself and whoever else was involved in this decision-making process hides behind this public uncertainty to shield themselves from the consequences of their decision.”

Administration responded to the complaints made by faculty and students.

“As I shared with faculty and staff last week, the decision to outsource housekeeping is not one we entered lightly or without regard for its impact on our housekeeping staff,” wrote Fernandes in an email to Sachs and Nunke. “How this decision impacts our housekeeping staff was deeply embedded into the evaluation process as the College explored its options.”

Degerman expressed similar sentiments.

“Any time there’s change, there’s obvious concern or questions to try and understand it better,” said Degerman. “I think the most important thing is what it means to those directly impacted by the change and then how it will afford services to our college community.”

However, some still feel the shift in management goes against Guilford’s core values.

“What I worry about is that the College, we’re going to have a reputation of sort of selectively applying our core values, and I think that to me is, that’s a problem,” said Professor of Economics Bob Williams. “If we have core values, then we need to live up to them as much as we can. Otherwise we need to just forget talking about them.”