The Middle Path Partnership will be 10 years old next year. We, the UE Local 712 Executive Board, know that many people on campus don’t know what it is or why it exists. We would like to answer these questions.
Back in 2012-13, the Trustees and President Nugent decided to outsource our Maintenance Department to Sodexo. We in Maintenance learned about that decision when we met with the former business manager, Mark Kohlman, to negotiate our contract for the coming year. But we were told there was no contract to negotiate: We would be working for Sodexo within the next couple of months, and nothing we had to say could change that. Helped by faculty, alumni, staff and student allies, we challenged that decision in public meetings. Our allies said that kicking Maintenance out of Kenyon was wrong because it violated the trust we should have in each other as part of a community. Faculty were upset that children of Maintenance workers would no longer be able to attend Kenyon or other GLCA schools as part of the tuition remission program. Many people were upset that the outsourcing decision was made in secret and imposed on Maintenance without consultation.
The pushback was so widespread that the Trustees decided to delay outsourcing. Instead, they formed a committee from students, faculty, staff and the leaders of the Maintenance unions that debated outsourcing and its alternatives. That committee met during 2012-13. Throughout that year, students, faculty, staff and alumni continued to fight against the proposed change. The Trustees agreed not to outsource our department. In return, Maintenance workers agreed to take part in a cooperative arrangement with management where we would talk and make decisions together. The Middle Path Partnership (MPP) was the compromise that came out of those meetings.
We saw this partnership as a way to save our jobs. We also saw it as a way to work together with managers to save the College money and to do our jobs efficiently. The cost of this compromise was that Maintenance workers took a pay cut. We have not yet made up that loss in pay. We saw that sacrifice as worth it, because we still worked for Kenyon; we were still part of the Kenyon community and we had a better way of doing our jobs.
President Decatur, along with the national presidents of the Maintenance unions, signed the founding charter of the MPP in August 2013, and we appreciate his support. As he said recently, every member of Kenyon’s staff should be valued for the expertise they bring to their jobs. Top-down decision making that ignores the expertise of workers is insulting and inefficient. It is inefficient because decision makers won’t benefit from the ideas of those who know their jobs well. The MPP gets people with different kinds of expertise together in a room during weekly meetings, where we talk with each other and then make decisions by consensus. The results are much better than when a few people ignore the expertise of workers, telling them what to do without taking their knowledge into account. The MPP also demands trust and respect between managers and workers, something that used to be lacking.
Years after it was first introduced, the MPP has been immensely successful in saving the College money. For example, beginning in 2012, we decided as a group to combine painting, plastering and tile work into one individual’s job duties. We were, therefore, able to eliminate the need for outside contractors to do these jobs. We also saved about $100k/year by adding the drywall work that our carpenters took on. Having our electricians take on the installation of card access systems around campus also provided major savings compared to outsourcing those jobs. Our work in building automation has also greatly reduced utility costs. The College also saved money when we took on numerous remodeling jobs in house, including installing furnaces and air conditioning units. All of this work used to be done by outside contractors at greater costs, and often with less care, than when we do the work ourselves. Ian Smith, vice president for facilities, planning and sustainability, is currently in the process of totaling up all of the cost savings achieved by the MPP since we started in 2013.
There is nothing like this cooperative arrangement between management and labor at any other college or university. There is a reason for that: Making the MPP work is hard. It is hard to reach consensus on decisions about how to do our jobs. It can be hard to look past earlier disagreements and find ways to trust and respect each other as equals. We are struggling with these problems right now. We are also struggling with recent statements made by the College’s lawyers that the Trustees want to keep open the option of outsourcing us. The MPP is proving its worth and we are working hard to make it a success. That lawyers speaking for Kenyon are ignoring our efforts and successes makes us wonder what and who we are fighting for. That those same lawyers refuse to accept that the MPP is part of our unions’ collective bargaining agreements is also a problem. Because of these legally binding agreements, the consensus decision-making that is essential to the MPP cannot be ignored by workers or managers. Everyone is held accountable. Everyone would have to work together. These statements by Kenyon’s lawyers, speaking for the College, make us wonder if the Trustees even care about the MPP and its members.
We keep fighting for the MPP because we see it as a way to avoid the outsourcing that almost kicked us out of the Kenyon community and our jobs. More importantly, we keep fighting for the MPP because working together to serve students, faculty, staff and administrators is the only way to do our jobs well. We owe the Kenyon community a lot for this chance to keep our jobs and to do them better. The best way we can pay them back is by making the MPP work, and the only way for the MPP to work is when we make decisions together.
In this way, we honor and respect each other, managers and workers, for our knowledge and skills. We also take advantage of each other’s strengths as we move forward together as equals to make the best decisions that benefit the entire community. Outsourcing violated the spirit of the Kenyon community. The MPP is true to that spirit and we are trying hard to make it succeed.
Please feel free to talk with us in Maintenance about the MPP if you have any questions. Please also feel free to attend our weekly meetings on Wednesdays 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. and contact us to be put on the invitation list.
Sincerely, UE Local 712 Executive Board