WKU staff respond to news of new employer

Monica Kast

WKU’s 202 custodial, building service, landscape and waste management employees working on the Bowling Green campus will have to decide if Sodexo, a private employment management service, will be their new employer after they spoke with administration.

At a budget forum last week, President Gary Ransdell announced that by switching to Sodexo, 202 employees would be able to keep their jobs, and 25 jobs were saved from being cut.

According to the 2016-2017 budget reduction plan that was released last week, switching the employees to a contract with Sodexo will save about $745,000. Regional campuses will not be affected by this change, according to Bryan Russell, chief facilities officer.

Employees who have been with WKU for 20 years or more will not make the switch to Sodexo and will remain employees of WKU. Other employees will be able to meet with Sodexo on a one-on-one basis and discuss individual concerns, according to Ransdell.

Greg Yost, Sodexo spokesperson, described the existing relationship between WKU and Sodexo.

“I can tell you that Sodexo USA has been on campus as a contractor, working with these teams, for 21 years now and this transition is an expansion of our existing relationship,” Yost said in an email.

Employees who will be moving to employment by Sodexo will receive a pay increase, and the starting wage will now be $10.26, one dollar more than the current starting wage. Sodexo will also reimburse employees who want to take courses that will further their career path, according to Russell.

Despite the welcome of Sodexo and assurances from administration, not every employee is confident that the change is for the best.

Brenda Whitaker has been an employee at WKU for 26 years. She currently works as a BSA on campus. Because she is near retirement, she will remain employed by WKU, but she said she didn’t agree with moving others to Sodexo.

“A lot of people are against it, and so am I,” Whitaker said, “but you’ve got to go with the system.”

Whitaker said she and many others felt like they had been “sold.”

Tamela Smith, staff regent and manager of AV services, said many concerns and uncertainties have been brought to her attention since the announcement.

“It’s a change, and there’s a lot of unknowns,” Smith said.

She said she has received much negative feedback from employees about the change and recognized that it has been a long, difficult process to make these decisions.

“There’s certainly been negative feedback,” Smith said. “I haven’t received any positive feedback, and that’s unfortunate.”

At the forum, BSA employees were able to voice some of that negative feedback. Most concerns were about retaining vacation days and potentially losing tuition benefits that are currently offered to employees.

Yost said employees would begin acquiring vacation and sick days with Sodexo on August 1.

“Holidays will be determined by Sodexo USA management,” Yost said. “Under Sodexo USA, employees will be awarded a beginning vacation leave balance based upon their years of service at Western Kentucky University. Effective August 1, 2016, employees will accrue vacation and sick time, both of which will be based upon Sodexo USA’s accrual schedule and their years of service to Western Kentucky University.”

Russell expanded on this at the forum.

“The other thing that we have done for employees, which is very unusual when you make this transition, is that based on their years of service, they will accrue at different rates,” Russell said. “If we have an employee that’s been here for 10 years, they’re going to be accruing with Sodexo as if they’ve been with Sodexo for 10 years.”

At the forum, Russell said WKU would be buying out unused vacation days from employees on July 31.

“At July 31 of this year, when they transfer from [WKU] to Sodexo employees, we’re going to buy out any unused vacation that they have — no limit,” Russell said at the forum.

According to the Official Employment Notice Pertaining to Outsourced Services from Russell and Brian Kuster, vice president of the Division of Student Affairs, employees who do not wish to be employed by Sodexo will “terminate employment with WKU effective no later than July 31, 2016 and will have no further employment rights with WKU or Sodexo.” The notice also states that “Any individuals who do not meet Sodexo’s employment standards will not be hired by Sodexo and will have no further employment rights with Sodexo or with WKU.”

Candy Walker, BSA and team leader for Grise Hall, said she and some of her coworkers feel like they aren’t getting the answers they need.

“Stuff is just not adding up and its not just BSAs, grounds is worried now,” Walker said in an email.

Tina Sneed has been with Building Services for 20 years, so she won’t be transferring to Sodexo for the fall. She said that a lot of employees are worried about losing their benefits that they’ve amassed in their time at WKU. Sneed said that WKU offers a lot of great benefits for its employees, like vacation and half-price tuition for employee’s children.

“This is the reason people come to Western, for the benefits, for the retirement,” Sneed said. “It’s not for the pay.”

Sneed said that people have a lot of questions about what will happen to their benefits.

“That’s stuff that needs to be answered now, not in July,” Sneed said.

She said that even the BSAs who are staying with WKU have worries, particularly with a new president coming in 2017.

“It’s scary for everybody,” Sneed said.