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By Dalson Chen

Ryerson University is doing its students a disservice by contracting cleaning work to private companies, says the head of the local caretakers’ union.

“Contracting out – it doesn’t work properly,” said Willy Torres, President of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 233. “[Management] know that. They’ve had problems with that.”

As part of the last round of bargaining between Ryerson and CUPE 233, Kerr Hall will be contracted to lower waged cleaning companies for nighttime service starting this month.

While Ryerson has contracted out janitorial work for years, Torres believes the university’s latest moves could forshadow a disturbing trend.

“To me, the future could be difficult,” said Torres. A Ryerson employee for 17 years, Torres has concerns about the quality of cleaning done by contract companies.

“In one way, it’s cheap labour,” he said. “But in the other way, there’s no commitment from the workers. Most of them work for a short term, then move to other jobs. Our guys provide security to the students. We have a commitment to them. I think we provide a better service.”

According to Torres, the administration’s main motive for contracting out cleaning is to save money. “According to them, it’s been a mixed model for many years. But there was a huge saving that they made,” he said. “I see that for them it works successfully if they save money.”

Human Resources Executive Director Larissa Allen calls that line of thinking “factually incorrect” and said the latest agreement was reached with union employees in mind.

“We wanted to ensure that [union members] would be a part of this community, that they would be working during the day with a lighter load,” said Allen. “That was the objective.”

Allen said CUPE 233 “did extremely well” in their latest deal, winning “a very competitive wage adjustment” as well as increased job security.

Torres agrees the negotiations were generally positive for CUPE 233. “The whole package was good for us because we got a lot of stuff we’d been asking for,” he said.

Although some of the cleaning contracts are still in the bidding process, Ryerson has previously hired a company called Miracle Maintenance.

When asked for his opinion of Miracle Maintenance’s work, Campus Planning and Facilities Director Ian Hamilton said “I would use them in the future and I would give them a positive reference.”

Hamilton refused to comment on whether or not the university saves money by contracting cleaning companies rather than going to CUPE 233. Asked if contract work will increase, Hamilton said “We have a good service delivery model in mind.”

CUPE 233 Vice-President Dan Batko said that while he thinks the latest agreement is good, he’s “strongly against” contracting out. “We will continue to work hard at protecting our jobs,” he stated. For his part, CUPE member Brian Paterson keeps his nose out of politics. After three years of working at Ryerson, the 36-year-old caretaker still doesn’t give much thought to union and management relations.

“I think they treat us all right,” he said. “Actually, I’m quite happy.”

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