Opinion: Letter to the Editor: School Custodians Deserve Respect

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: School Custodians Deserve Respect

As Alexandria prepares to plunge head-first into the “gig economy,” the recent action by the School Board signaled to our lowest paid workers that our community’s prosperity will not include them.

Specifically, by a 6-3 vote, six members of the School Board voted to accept the superintendent’s proposed budget, which includes a plan to accelerate the further outsourcing of school custodians to private contractors. To be clear, this move is not being done to improve the quality, reliability or stability of the custodial workforce – it is being done solely for budgetary reasons. Essentially, the School Board believes that our compassionate community finds it acceptable to balance its budget on the backs of its lowest paid workers. I cannot state with sufficient alacrity that such a belief is patently false.

While it may be that in the short-run it is cheaper to outsource the custodians, the minuscule price to the taxpayers of absorbing this cost pales in comparison to the needless pain inflicted on the custodians. Moreover, these are our citizens, neighbors, parents, and responsible adult figureheads who daily interact with our children. We all benefit when people who work in our community can afford to live in our community.

There is only one advantage that the custodians may gain should they be outsourced; that is, the ability to form a union that can legally strike. Though I commend the efforts of the Education Association of Alexandria, as public employees in Virginia the custodians currently are not legally allowed to strike. Does this single advantage outweigh the lost pensions, job stability, and benefits? In any case, as a seasoned union-side labor lawyer, I have seen a lot of labor unrest and most were easily preventable — not by throwing money at the workers, but by showing workers that they are appreciated and respected, regardless of the prestige or power of their positions.

Please let your elected School Board members know that our custodians are valuable members of our community and deserve to be treated with the same level of respect as any other class of employees in our school system.

Matt Harris, Esq.