Outsourcing custodial jobs is at odds with Laurier’s mission and reputation

A letter to Dr. Blouw from Dr. Don Wells, McMaster University

Laurier’s custodial staff is fighting to protect their jobs and their futures. Dr. Don Wells, a labour studies scholar at McMaster University, recently wrote Dr. Blouw urging him to cancel plans to outsource CUPE 926 jobs.

Dr. Blouw responded by arguing that “The current business model for delivering custodial services does not meet these standards of productivity and financial sustainability. Therefore we must seek alternative ways to deliver this service going forward.” He also stressed that “The University seeks first to protect its own employees and only when custodial positions are freely vacated, then to utilize, where feasible, a third party contractor.”

We invite you to read Dr. Wells’ response to these arguments, written in a second letter to Dr. Blouw, which he has generously permitted us to publish here.

19 March 2016

Dear President Blouw,

Thank you for your response. I appreciate your effort to protect the job security of existing custodians. However, your intention at this point is to outsource custodians’ jobs by attrition. I also appreciate your desire to examine alternatives to this contracting out and would like to offer some considerations in this regard.

You note your concern to find ways to raise productivity. There is considerable research indicating that in many cases improved wages and working conditions are associated with `efficiency gains’ which help employers to offset higher wage costs with cost-savings in other areas.  These efficiency gains include:

  • Lower turnover
  • Reduced training costs
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Lower sick leave
  • Improved employee morale and commitment
  • Less labour-management conflict
  • Higher quality work

As well, employers who brand themselves as ethically responsible often gain reputational benefits. This ethical branding includes social responsibility to employees and to the community. Social responsibility to employees is not compatible with cutting commitments to them and treating them and their families as disposable. As one of Canada’s great universities and as an anchor institution in Waterloo, Kitchener and Brantford, Laurier’s employment policies also have important impacts on these communities, all of which are already weakened by precarious employment. Were Laurier to outsource the custodians’ jobs, these communities would only be further weakened.

These days we are all aware that we live in an age of increasing job precarity and social inequality. The Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) project is a SSHRC-funded project by researchers, including myself, from several universities including Laurier. PEPSO researchers have found that 44 percent of working adults are in precarious jobs. They conclude that job precarity can negatively affect our ability to build stable, fulfilling lives, as well as our ability to develop a competitive workforce. This world of precarious work is adversely affecting more and more of us, especially our youth, and not least our students.

Finally, Laurier has an important commitment to social justice. Laurier’s official vision is to instill “the courage to engage and challenge the world in all its complexity.” It calls on us to “become engaged and aware citizens.” Its guiding principles are “responsible governance” and “community citizenship.” My family and I strongly support these Laurier values. I have friends and colleagues at Laurier who are proud to work at a university that espouses these values. I am sure similar pride in these values is widespread among Laurier’s staff, students, faculty and alumni. Many of them must find it difficult, as I do, to understand how these values can be reconciled with contracting out the custodians’ jobs.

I hope these considerations are helpful. As someone who has been a labour studies scholar and a community advocate for many years, I urge you to seek a better alternative to contracting out the custodians’ jobs.


Don Wells


School of Labour Studies and Department of Political Science

McMaster University


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