Union rallies at Ohio University for higher pay and more employees

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Members of the union representing Ohio University’s culinary, custodial and maintenance staff rallied on campus Friday for increased pay and hiring.

AFSCME members rally on the campus of Ohio University and hold signs
[Emma Dolenmayer | WOUB]

According to Ted Linscott, president of the Southeastern Ohio Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, the university once employed over 900 people in culinary, custodial and maintenance positions. By 2020, he said, this was down to 550 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. At present, he said, the university employees 440 in these positions.

Despite record fall enrollment, Linscott said, the university has not reversed cuts made to staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are the folks that are cleaning the buildings, preparing the food, maintaining the buildings, keeping the heat on and doing all these kinds of jobs that keep this place rolling,” he said.

Sean Grayson, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8, said it’s difficult for employees to do their jobs effectively given inadequate resources and staff allocated to them by the university.

“Our workforce can’t do the work they’re expected to do,” he said. “They want to do a good job, but they can’t get that work done with the manpower and the resources that are being provided to them.”

The university disputes the union’s claims of understaffing. University spokesperson Dan Pittman told WOUB that all facilities management and safety employees affected by layoffs have been granted the opportunity to return.

Pittman also said the university’s culinary division has returned to pre-COVID staffing levels and the university has hired eight residential custodians and nine grounds and building maintenance personnel.

Marcia Knox, first vice president of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, said that in order to attract new employees, the university needs to increase its pay and benefits for staff.

“There’s a lot of talk about how Ohio University’s custodians make too much money. That’s crazy,” she said. “I would love for the administration to take a day and walk in the shoes of the men and women who take care of this facility. They will see that it is not an easy thing to do.”

Knox’s sentiments were echoed by Linscott, who referred to the current starting wage of $12.50 an hour for janitorial employees at the university as “poverty wages.”

Grayson said the university’s staffing problems are negatively impacting its image at a time when the university seeks sustain its enrollment gains.

“We’ve seen Facebook responses online from students and from parents who have questioned the cleanliness of the university,” he said. “They want an environment that’s safe, healthy and comfortable.”

While Ohio University employees have learned to do more with less, Linscott siad there’s only so much that can be accomplished with limited time and resources.

“Our offices aren’t getting cleaned and the dormitories aren’t getting cleaned as well as they should because staff don’t have the time to do it,” he said. “Their schedules don’t allow them to do the thorough cleaning that needs to be done. They do the best they can, but you can only do what you can do.”

The AFSCME’s contract with Ohio University will expire in March 2023. Grayson hopes the union can negotiate a fair contract with the university that will meet the union’s demands.

“We’re at the bargaining table asking for fairness, asking the university to look its priorities, how they use their resources and prioritize the workforce here,” he said. “We are bargaining in good faith and we’re hopeful the university will understand our demands and meet them.”