City janitors

In this 2016 file photo, David Harris cleans the hallway at Waco City Hall. Harris and other janitors voiced anxiety about their jobs being outsourced, but the council is allowing them to remain city employees.

The Waco City Council by a 6-0 vote Tuesday approved a compromise plan to phase out city janitors in favor of a private contractor.

Starting in late February, UBM Enterprise will take over cleaning of 14 buildings, totaling about 400,000 square feet.

Existing city workers would be retained at 16 buildings, maintaining 182,000 square feet of space. In time, city officials hope to transition all janitorial services to the firm, saying the move would save the city some $428,000 off its $1 million annual cleaning bill.

But for the coming year, the city would only save about $31,000, assuming the 13 full-time janitors and 2 part-timers on staff remain city employees and do not go to work for UBM.

The janitors had objected that outsourcing would undermine the benefits, especially retirement, that they had earned over time. Council members Noah Jackson Jr. and Alice Rodriguez had voiced misgivings about outsourcing for that reason, but they were satisfied with the compromise that allows UBM to gradually expand as janitors get other jobs or retire.

Councilman Dillon Meek said the city staff went the extra mile to take care of the employees.

“There’s competing interests here, and it’s difficult, but I think you did an excellent job,” Meek said. “I feel like this represents a good balance.”

“I do as well,” Rodriguez said.

Mayor Kyle Deaver called the compromise “appropriate and compassionate.”

City staffers first proposed outsourcing in summer 2016, and six of the 19 full-time janitors have quit since, leaving the city to fill the gap with temporary workers. At the same time, the amount of janitorial work the city needs has grown, and trying to meet all the demands with full-time city staff would drive up the cleaning bill dramatically, staffers said.

The new contractor has said it would offer health insurance, sick and vacation pay, with hourly pay at $10 to $13, close to the city’s compensation. City Manager Wiley Stem III said he expects the company will try to recruit some of the existing city janitors.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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