JwJ East TN & Knox County Custodians Fight Outsourcing Together
Outsourcing Scheme Off the Table for 2011-2012 School Year
When Superintendent McIntyre announced his proposal to outsource the Knox County School system’s custodial workers, he probably didn’t bank on much push-back from the community—but that’s what he got.
In early spring of this year, Knox County Schools’ custodians found themselves under threat of massive lay-offs due to the superintendent’s scheme to auction off public schools’ custodial services to a private cleaning company. While there was a lot of big talk about privatization being a way to “save money” for the school system, McIntyre made no mention of the cuts that would inevitably be made to custodial workers’ wages and benefits in order to make those “savings” possible.
Soon after the outsourcing plan was announced, Jobs with Justice of East Tennessee decided to begin efforts to build a campaign against it. After realizing that school custodians were not yet organized in our county, we dug up public records with contact information for over 300 workers spread out across 83 different schools and started making cold calls. We invited them to picket with us at a pre-bid conference for corporate bidders and speak out against outsourcing at school board meetings. Local media took interest in the issue, and soon custodians started showing up in the news as they bravely defended their jobs and the hard work they do for the sake of Knox County’s children.
By April, several custodians and JwJET members were discussing other possibilities for organized action and for further developing our campaign. Declaring that public employees are the best at providing “quality, clean care,” the workers chose the acronym QCC for themselves and swung into high gear. For the past two months, QCC and JwJET have been working hard to increase turn-out for anti-outsourcing rallies and to spread the word among family, friends, co-workers, and the community at large. In May, QCC invited school board members to a special meeting to discuss the issue and deliver a petition with over 2,000 signatures in support of keeping custodial workers in-house. Only two school board members showed up, but so did the press—and for the first time, many custodians had the opportunity to speak to the people who make big decisions about their jobs and futures on their own terms.
On June 4, just two days before the school board was supposed to vote on whether or not to outsource, Superintendent McIntyre announced that there was not enough time to transition to a privatized cleaning system before school resumes in August. While this means Knox County School custodians won’t be laid off this year, the future of their jobs is still under threat as long as this outsourcing scheme remains on the table at all. This Saturday, QCC and JwJET are inviting all Knox County Schools custodial workers and community members to a family cookout as we celebrate the campaign’s first great success in winning one more year of job security.
Still, while preventing outsourcing for the coming year is a wonderful victory, there is yet a lot of work to be done. QCC and JwJET hope that the momentum gained this spring will only increase throughout the summer and into the fall. We are looking for ways to get even better organized and put an end once and for all to an outsourcing plan that would be bad for workers, bad for schools, and bad for the community. It’s time to escalate our fight—keep people before profit!