City funds OK'd for custodian contracts

Privatization allows 138 layoffs, savings of $2.1 million

November 22, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The Board of Estimates approved yesterday $1.8 million to hire two companies to supply custodial services in several city buildings, finalizing Mayor Martin O'Malley's first efforts to privatize some city jobs and save the city millions of dollars.

The two contracts approved yesterday, along with another signed in September, total $3.7 million. Last fiscal year, the city paid $5.8 million for custodial work, which means a savings of $2.1 million, city officials said.

"The janitorial contract will finally help us dust off the loose ends in the budget," O'Malley said yesterday.

As a result of O'Malley's efforts, the city will lay off 138 Department of Public Works custodians in March . The plan to lay off the custodians and 36 DPW security guards sparked debate this summer during tense budget negotiations.

At the time, O'Malley wanted the employees laid off immediately in order to increase the savings for the city, but it became clear that the City Council would not pass his $1.8 billion budget unless a compromise was reached.

City Council members were loath to approve the layoffs, arguing that the custodians and security guards were some of the lowest-paid and longest-serving employees.

As a result, the 138 custodians have remained on the payroll while the city helps them look for new jobs. Of them, about one-third have found jobs, mostly in city agencies at about the same pay, an average of $21,270.

Most of those, 31, have been hired as DPW laborers, and more than 20 custodians with at least 20 years of service plan to retire , officials have said.

More than 60 are looking for work, but city officials hope that number will shrink as the March deadline approaches. About 20 are enrolled in job training or GED classes, officials have said.

The city is bracing for the possibility of more layoffs because of a projected $17.1 million budget shortfall. Since Sept. 11, the city has spent at least $3.5 million in unbudgeted funds on anti-terrorism efforts, mainly police overtime.

Glenard S. Middleton Sr., president of Local 44 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said O'Malley's privatization efforts have prompted concern among city workers about their futures.

"During the holiday season, the Baltimore city workers fear job cuts more than terrorist attacks," Middleton said. "The city must ensure its safety, but we need our dedicated work force to do this."

One of the byproducts of the privatization has been the formation of a coalition of unions and community activists. The groups agreed recently on a joint platform opposing privatization and calling for a change in the city Charter that would trim the size of the City Council, which they say is bloated and unresponsive.

The Board of Estimates approved yesterday a $986,213 contract with Associated Building Maintenance Co. Inc. of Crofton and a $794,199 contract with Mowatt Inc. of Cockeysville. MultiCorp Commercial, based in Westminster, was awarded a $1.9 million contract Sept. 19.

In July, the Board of Estimates approved a $1.7 million contract with Abacus Corp. of Baltimore, which plans to put 20 guards at City Hall, the courthouses and other municipal buildings.

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