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UE Local 712 Presents Middle Path Plan to Community

By Eric Geller

As the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 712 (UE Local 712) and the College await the recommendations of the Maintenance Management Advisory Panel (MMAP), UE Local 712s Middle Path Proposal, which was announced in an all-student email (allstu) on Wednesday, Sept. 12, has set the stage for the Unions next move. The allstu, ssigned by union members, proposed two specific alternatives to the approaches Sodexo has offered and emphasized long-standing tension between the College administration and workers.

To improve the work order system currently in place, the Middle Path Proposal suggests that Kenyon adopt the Visual Maintenance Management System (VMMS). VMMS, Smith said, is just one of several possible alternatives to the Sodexo approach. Smith also said the Colleges current work order system would be sufficient if it were used correctly, alluding to the fact that the maintenance workers do not believe they have sufficient input when interfacing with their management.

The message also proposed a new way for management and labor to interact on campus. This approach, modeled after a solution endorsed by the International Association of Machinists (IAM), is in place at many companies, from small businesses to multinational firms like AT&T. Smith said the Colleges custodians and grounds employees are in a union that uses the IAM model, and a representative from their union told him to look into it for UE Local 712.

President S. Georgia Nugent expressed doubt that this model could be applied to Kenyon. None of [the referenced companies] would be comparable to a college. I mean, most of them are manufacturers in one way or another, so … it might be a simpler structure that theyre working with. That is still kind of a mystery to me.

In the allstu, the Union gave several examples of inefficiencies in the maintenance department that came from upper management, including money that was wasted on trees that were never planted or the spending of $10,000 to replace obsolete faucets installed at the KAC.

Both Smith and Kuninger believe maintenance workers need to be consulted on work projects. According to Kuninger, the administration should ask their workers whether the work orders theyre issuing represent the best approaches.

For the most part, maintenance workers currently dont have that kind of input into the work order process, Smith said.

Both the VMMS and the IAM model are geared toward a revised relationship between management and labor. Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman acknowledged the need for something like the VMMS. We do believe its crucial to bring our work order system and purchasing program into the 21st century, Kohlman said.

Larry James, a Columbus lawyer who serves as the chairman of the MMAP, said the Unions new proposals will take center stage during a Panel meeting later this month. We will vet those ideas with the people presenting [them] on Thursday, Sept. 27, said James.

After the Panel receives a presentation with the necessary details, it will pass those proposals on to the administration, where senior staff will consider the finer points of implementing the plans.

Itd be premature to try to opine on how valid [the Middle Path Proposal is or] what the cost savings are, James said. Any proposal that were going to look at, were not there yet. Sodexo, too, has provided the Panel with marketing materials and general suggestions, but the specific terms and prices of their proposals have not been presented yet.

I dont see what Sodexo is offering, said Professor of Sociology George McCarthy, one of the outside observers the Union brought in to witness and document the negotiations. The College hasnt laid out all the particulars about that.

In McCarthys opinion, with the Sodexo decision, the administration put one of Kenyons most distinct attributes the respect that staff, faculty, and students have for the Colleges traditions and its values at risk. He said he didnt believe the outsourcing proposal was a realistic option, because it would destroy the very fabric of this institution. McCarthy expressed surprise that the broader social, cultural implications didnt occur to the administration. The College is undermining the very thing that theyre selling, the very brand that is so distinctive about Kenyon, he said.

McCarthy believes that, before she leaves, Nugent should opt to repair relations with the Union and not contract with Sodexo. He said such a contract would put Nugents successor in the position of presiding over a significant change in relations with the maintenance union early in his or her tenure.

In the meantime, James is anxious to move from generalities to concrete details. For example, while the Middle Path Proposal mentioned the VMMS idea, the Union did not provide any details related to what components would be necessary to implement it. James called the VMMS and IAM concepts hypothetical ideas without any meat on the bones.

Because the contract negotiations have attracted significant interest and attention on campus, James plans to hold an open forum for the Kenyon community on Wednesday, Oct. 3, to address inconsistent reports of what the Panels meetings are like. What I hear and what I read is not reflective on whats taking place in the room, he said. Theres absolute trust and respect in that room. I dont see how anyone could read the minutes and say that the body somehow has discounted something.

Smith said the Union had no say in who was on the Panel, and he expressed concern about the process leading up to the Panels decision in November.

[Nugent] said shed take [the Panels recommendation] seriously, but we have to wonder, [given that] they made the [Sodexo] decision without ever consulting with us in the first place, Smith said. Theyve already made the decision once; how much impact is this panels recommendation going to have?

Director of Counseling Services Patrick Gilligan, the administrations outside observer in the negotiations, said the increasing costs associated with the current union contract threaten to jeopardize Kenyons core commitment to education. The integrity of the institution should always be first and foremost on everybodys mind, Gilligan said.

The Union has to recognize that Kenyon is not only a college, its a big business, and it has unsustainable costs that it has to somehow control, Gilligan said.

His view was that the debate was ultimately between these rising costs and the prioritization of the Colleges most important expenses, not between the administration and the Union. Its really possible for these two sides to work out a reasonable outcome, he said.

I think there definitely is [hope for a favorable outcome], Smith said. The College taking a step towards a partnership [with maintenance] in lieu of outsourcing would be a huge step toward healing all of this.

Kuninger expressed optimism but recognized the challenges inherent in further negotiations. The easy way is to go with Sodexo, he said. The harder way is to work together.

Additional reporting by David Hoyt.

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