On June 21, 2012, Texas A&M University announced a plan to privatize a range of campus services that are currently performed by university employees. Included in the privatization plan are dining, landscaping, building maintenance and cleaning services. According to the Texas Tribune Data Library, 1270 workers were employed in the affected departments as of fiscal year 2011. To date, Texas A&M has not released the exact number of jobs that would be privatized under this plan and has been criticized for the lack of transparency during negotiations. In a letter dated June 6th, the Office of the Attorney General ruled in favor of A&M’s effort to withhold information related to the contract negotiations that had been requested under the Texas Open Records Act by The Eagle, a Bryan–College Station newspaper. In the article that the Eagle ran reporting A&M’s stonewalling of open records, TSEU member Alma Villarreal (a custodial supervisor at A&M) is quoted, “We’re not communist Russia, we’re a public university.”
Privatization Is Being Sold as a Cost Saving Measure
According to the plan announced on June 21st, A&M has awarded the contract to North Carolina based Compass Group, USA. A&M officials suggest that the deal is worth $260 million in cash and savings to the school over the next ten years. According to Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, the agreement includes Compass Group paying Texas A&M $45 million and spending another $30 million renovating campus dining facilities. Source: Texas A&M Awards Contract to Privatize Services | Jim Vertuno, AP. As for the workers affected by the privatization, Chancellor Sharp insists that Compass Group has agreed to keep current workers in their jobs and match their current salary and benefits.
The Devil is in the Details
The notion that privatization will not have a negative impact on the affected employees is misleading. Privatized A&M workers will lose their status as Texas state employees and lose all of the benefits afforded to them as state workers including their grievance protections, their health plan provided by Texas A&M, and their status in the Teacher’s Retirement System. Whether or not Compass Group does indeed match current salaries, benefits will almost certainly erode. Neither Texas A&M nor Compass Group have presented in writing a contract that details how they plan to match current salary and benefits. The likely conversion to a defined contribution 401(k) retirement plan to replace the defined benefit TRS pension plan would certainly be a massive cut in retirement benefits.
A Black Mark on the Integrity of the “Aggie Spirit”
The hundreds of workers who stand to have their jobs privatized have devoted thousands of years of service to Texas A&M University. They are invaluable contributors to the university’s mission and A&M owes them more than a promise of employment working for Compass Group, USA. Texas A&M takes pride in forging a tight-knit community. Aggie traditions are deeply rooted in these community values. The Aggie Code of Honor states, “An Aggie does not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.” Texas A&M should be mindful of this code before rushing to haphazardly kick hundreds of dedicated staff out of the Aggie community and into the Compass Group ranks. There is a pattern among contractors who privatize public services. They maintain pay and benefits for a short amount of time, maybe a year. Then, once the contract is securely established and the public infrastructure is dismantled, they slash benefits and cut wages. These types of business practices violate the “Aggie Spirit.” It is a lie for A&M to tell its employees that they will not be negatively affected by privatization. Texas A&M is attempting to address a budget hole created by the Texas Legislature by filling it with the pile of money that the university will save on salary and benefits from dumping these workers. There are better ways to balance a budget than stealing the pensions away from front-line staff. Cheating dedicated A&M employees out of their inclusion in the Aggie community is not the answer. When your name tag is provided by Compass Group, you don’t work for Texas A&M University, you simply work at Texas A&M University.
This article was published as part of the Texas State Employees Union News Bulletin Network.
Source: Texas State Employees Union/ CWA Local 6186.