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Workers win fight to keep custodial and groundskeeper jobs at UW-Oshkosh

By staff |
September 14, 2022
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Members of the faculty and staff union at UW-Oshkosh demonstrate in solidarity w
Members of the faculty and staff union at UW-Oshkosh demonstrate in solidarity with the unorganized custodial and grounds workers on campus facing outsourcing. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Oshkosh, WI – Worker solidarity proved to be too much for the administration of UW Oshkosh, when they were forced September 12 to scrap their plan to privatize over 100 custodial and groundskeeper jobs at the university. Workers first learned of this plan on August 22, when UW Oshkosh custodial and grounds staff were informed via email that the administration was considering contracting with a private company, SSC Services, in Tennessee. This move would have pushed workers off their state benefits and resulted in reduced job security, poorer working conditions and less effective services rendered, all while funneling public education dollars to a private company.

Custodial and grounds workers, students and the United Faculty and Staff of Oshkosh (UFSO), a union of faculty and academic staff represented by AFT-Wisconsin Local 6506, immediately joined together to organize against this proposal. On September 6, the university’s opening day, over 40 staff, faculty and students marched through campus and around the administration’s offices, chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, keep the jobs at UWO" and "The people united will never be defeated." Protesters also marched up and down nearby streets, cheering as passing cars honked in solidarity and getting extensive local media coverage.

Union members spearheaded a petition and a letter-writing campaign, gathering testimony and signatures from hundreds of faculty, staff and students in support of their custodial and grounds workers and sending these letters to the administration. Students organized their own resistance, gathering over 200 signatures on their own petition in a matter of days.

Then, at 1 p.m. on September 12, a group consisting of custodial and grounds staff, faculty, students and other university staff met with the administration to deliver their petitions, with over 900 signatures, demanding “immediate rejection of the plan to outsource the employment of the dedicated and hard-working custodians and grounds crew” and asking to “work together to find home-grown solutions to the challenges we face in recruitment, retention and allocation of resources.”

Less than two hours later, UW Oshkosh Chancellor Andy Leavitt sent an email to all university employees and students stating, “After considerable feedback, analysis and reflection, I have made the decision to maintain an internally managed custodial and groundskeeping staff at UW Oshkosh,” and that the administration will “develop a management plan that will allow us to get the work done, improve working conditions and successfully recruit and retain new employees.”

“Outsourcing would not only have been bad for workers, but it would have impacted our entire university community and our educational mission," said Stephanie Spehar, a faculty member at UW-Oshkosh and member of the UFSO executive board. "This win demonstrates the power that we have when all workers stay united. It was an honor to stand in solidarity with my coworkers and I hope that we will continue to work together in the future.”

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