Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Outsourcing the Custodians

Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
II Thessalonians 3:10-13

Last night the School Committee in East Greenwich voted to outsource the work of school custodians. The Committee estimates that this will save the town $200,000 in the first year, and more over the years to come. It will reduce the average property tax bill by thirty-four dollars.

Nineteen people will be fired. They will be replaced by workers who will be paid much less and will have no benefits. Some have worked for the School Department for twenty years. They can apply to the new management firm, and potentially could get their jobs back, but at reduced pay and without benefits.

It is a local issue. There will be no national news reports. But it is also part of a much larger development. Job prospects at the lower end of the labor force are getting worse. Those who have little will have less. For Christians, this is a disturbing trend. The gap between rich a poor will get a little wider.

One of the major insights of the Reformation was about the honorable nature of work; that work is good and working is good, and we ought to do the best we can at whatever we do. And each of us should earn our way by contributing to the common wealth. In the late nineteenth century, the Social Gospel reformers looked harder at the rights of workers, recognizing that workers were easily exploited by the wealthy and powerful. They supported a living wage and the right of workers to organize.

For nearly a century, until the 1970’s, workers made huge gains. The Middle Class grew and flourished in the United States and the wages of average Americans increased. A comfortable retirement became a nearly universal expectation. But over the past thirty plus years, many of those gains have been erased and the gap between rich and poor has increased.

There are no easy answers.

Tax Payers and Consumers want to save money. We lament the loss of small businesses as we drive to Wal-Mart or Target or Best Buy.

In the specific issue of the custodians, familiar faces will be replaced with strangers. There will be much less continuity in the work force. People who were part of the school community and had an investment in it will be replaced by workers whose only connection is a short-term dead-end job.

Could it have come out differently? Could the custodians have done more to justify the greater cost? Could they have made themselves indispensable by approaching their work with more flexibility? Could they have been more cooperative with the School Board?

Hard questions. And again, no easy answers.

But it is not good for the gap to increase between rich and poor. And it is not good for those who do not have very much, to have even less.

1 comment:

  1. A sad day for East Greenwich custodians .