By Eric Geller
Following several months of discussion between Kenyon’s unionized maintenance workers and the College administration, the College has opted to move forward with the workers’ proposal for improving the maintenance department, known as the Middle Path Partnership (MPP). The decision was announced in a news bulletin on March 28.
Director of Facility Operations Greg Widener said the selection of the MPP was the result of a recommendation from Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman. “I think ﾅ he saw that this team was able to pull together and put conflict aside and partner, as the name says, to genuinely arrive at a solution that would benefit the College, benefit the students and benefit the future of Kenyon,” Widener said.
Members of the maintenance unions and representatives from the College administration will take part in training sessions for the High Performance Work Organization Partnerships program on April 29. The sessions, which will be held at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers headquarters in Maryland, aim to familiarize the maintenance department’s employees with a collaborative program that has not yet been applied to higher education.
“That program is designed to engage people down to the staff level,” Widener said. “It’s not just a group of people, like the 10 of us that form the MPP steering committee, so to speak ﾗ it’s not just us running the maintenance program. It’s [about] involving every staff member and how they individually have a voice in affecting the control of how maintenance is managed.”
“I think the [training sessions] that we’re going to [at] the end of this month will teach us to better communicate with each other,” said Lori Moore, a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2794, which represents the custodians and groundskeepers.
Robert Smith, president of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 712, which represents Kenyon’s trades workers, said that the late April training sessions will serve as a forum for management and labor representatives to draw up a more formal set of guidelines and expectations for the next four years. “The way I understand it [is that] we will come up with an agreement ﾅ of how we want this partnership to work,” Smith said.
As part of the decision that was announced last week, both unions have agreed to give up a pay increase that was scheduled to take effect at the beginning of the 2013-14 fiscal year. Linda Beck, the president of Local 2794, said the process of voting on the wage increase forfeiture was difficult, but ultimately produced near-unanimous agreement. “No one wants to give up money,” she said. “But they agreed to that to save their job and still be Kenyon employees.”
Smith echoed these comments with regard to the trades workers union. “The first couple of times we discussed it, I can’t say everybody was on board with it,” he said. He added, however, “Everybody felt it was important ﾅ to show we’re serious, to put our best foot forward.”
The MPP plan will also involve modernizing the work order system that the maintenance department uses to collect, distribute and track projects. Maintenance requests previously flowed through the department’s work order clerk, but the new system, which will run on computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) from TMA Systems LLC, will replace that “funnel” approach with a more distributed process.
“Managers will touch and handle the work orders and data and be using the computers more to track and look at what staff are doing,” Widener said. “Staff themselves will ultimately be able to look at their own work, which they currently don’t do, and see what their status is.”
In addition to improving the process of assigning and monitoring work orders, the CMMS will also help maintenance employees prioritize the most important parts of their workloads. “As managers help that process occur, that person’s going to learn to manage their own time better, and in turn respond to the customer,” Widener said.
Right now, Smith said, “you have to literally work through paper copies [of work orders]. Once we get the new computerized system in place, a person will be able to go to a computer and pull them all up. ﾅ I think it’s going to be good for the College and good for us.”
Widener said that communication was essential in improving relations between management and labor. He cited the selection of Kenyon’s new president as an example of an event that caught some people on campus off-guard because they hadn’t been following the process.
“There were opportunities for them to understand,” Widener said, referring to the presidential selection process. Similarly, he said, there will be opportunities for maintenance workers to follow the ongoing process of evaluating and improving their department.
As discussions about the future of the maintenance department continue, a “steering committee” of 10 people has been holding meetings in the maintenance department’s facility at the south end of campus. Representing the unions on the committee are Smith, Beck, Moore, Bob Wilson, Dave Kuninger and Paula Morrison. 12