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Medical School Outsources Custodians

Current workers will be allowed to keep jobs

By Zachary R. Heineman, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Medical School (HMS) announced yesterday that its maintenance and custodial services will be provided by Trammell Crow Company starting later this year.

"This is probably the most comprehensive outsourcing of maintenance [at Harvard] to date," said Eric Buehrens, associate dean for planning and facilities at HMS.

Outsourcing of employees is a national trend--and one that has been duly reflected at Harvard.

The majority of security guards are now employed by Security Systems Incorporated (SSI), while Leverett, Quincy, and Mather Houses have a portion of their bathrooms cleaned by UNICCO, a national maintenance services company.

Acording to University spokesperson Joe Wrinn, these changes are motivated by the fact that the facilities have become more specialized and more technical.

"We did not start with the larger intent of cutting down costs," Wrinn said.

For a research institution with over 1000 labs, even small temperature changes and short blackouts can become large problems.

"It's not just an inconvenience," said Don Gibbons, associate dean for public affairs. "We could lose 10-12 years of research."

The HMS campus is currently serviced by an arm of the University's Facilities Maintenance Operations (FMO) that includes 20 full-time maintenance workers and 92 mostly part-time custodial workers. The current FMO contract expires June 30, 2001.

As part of the outsourcing agreement, current FMO employees will be offered similar jobs elsewhere within the university or with Tramell.

"We're happy that the people involved are keeping their jobs," said Jane K. Garfield, director of facilities and operations at HMS. "We don't expect much to change except for the name on their paycheck."

FMO employees, however, said they were not pleased by the changes--though much has been promised to them, little has been guaranteed. Plus, they enjoy working for Harvard.

"The medical school has been very quiet about the whole thing," said one 7-year maintenance employee. "It leaves a sour taste in your mouth."

According to HMS administrators, Tramell will begin negotiations with current employees tomorrow.

Employees also question why HMS has decided to move away from the FMO, particularly in light of a so-called "greenbook."

This book, described by a 15-year clerical employee, in 1997 set forth criteria which the medical school FMO needed to meet. A year later, she said, these criteria had been almost entirely met.

The proposal outlining requirements for companies (including the FMO) interested in serving HMS facilities was simply an recycled version of the "greenbook," she said.

But Gibbons emphasized that all bidders were considered equally.

"The FMO's response to the proposal was not as strong as the other bidders," Gibbons said.

One concern expressed by employees was that they maintain similar benefits, including the significantly reduced tuition at the extension school.

Although Tramell offers tuition reimbursements and scholarship programs for employee children, it remains unclear what specific educational benefits employees themselves will receive.

"[Tramell will] need to sit down and discuss something with the extension school," Buehrens said.

One advantage of Tramell, according to Gibbon, is that while the company is not in the business of general education, it can offer job-specific training to its employees.

"Because it's a large operation it can offer those classes whereas the FMO cannot," he said.

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