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CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) today released a report on the decision of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in February 2014 to move union Operating Engineers custodians out of schools and outsource management of public school custodians to two private companies—Aramark and Sodexomagic—which has resulted in poor maintenance conditions throughout the district. The study, titled “Outsourced: Aramark’s Filthy Mishandling of Chicago’s Public Schools,” examines what occurred in the aftermath of the outsourcing, as promises made by the district were broken, sanitation conditions deteriorated, and parents and staff were forced to clean and maintain schools themselves to ensure student safety.

The release of the report follows an announcement from CPS on September 13 that Aramark would lay off 468 public school custodians by the end of the month. In June, the CTU surveyed all members for whom an email address was available and received more than 1,000 responses expressing anger over the new outsourcing and concern about the health and safety of students in their schools. Concerns were generally raised about Aramark, and not Sodexomagic.

The teachers did not, however, blame the custodians in the schools—they blamed CPS for outsourcing janitorial services to Aramark, and both Aramark and the district for their mismanagement and the relocation of custodians with experience at a particular building to other buildings. “Outsourced: Aramark’s Filthy Mishandling of Chicago’s Public Schools” finds that CPS’ and Aramark’s stated goal was to save money by increasing productivity by 50 percent, meaning custodians would do 1.5 times as much work for less pay. Due to cutbacks, 625 custodians are now responsible for cleaning 485 school buildings serving 307,110 students.

Among the survey comments found in the report:

  • “A parent pulled my student out of my school because the room was filthy [and] not cleaned for weeks. We also had two bouts of bed bugs.”
  • “All of this dust and grime aggravates the respiratory systems of children and makes those with asthma and other respiratory problems seriously ill.”
  • “Our administration and teacher leaders have found the CPS/Aramark middle managers full of excuses and unresponsive. Repeated complaints are met with repetitive promises of, ‘We’re working on it.’” 
  • “Students are asked to bring in their own toilet paper, soap, paper towel and tissues. If they don’t, I supply.”
  • “Our rooms get cleaned on average two days a week. Previously, they were cleaned every day. Floors are rarely swept and never mopped.”

“The physical condition of our schools is a very serious problem, but the issue isn’t with the maintenance workers, but the way in which they are managed, which has left students in extremely unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “If the district wants to create a healthy learning environment, a big part of that is having safe and clean facilities, and custodians who work in accordance with teachers and principals more so than their private employers.”

“Outsourced: Aramark’s Filthy Mishandling of Chicago’s Public Schools” finds that school contracts with Aramark have been controversial throughout the United States, particularly as a result of cost-saving measures that drastically reduce the number of custodians required to keep schools cleans and children and staff healthy. The CTU calls on CPS to demand the rehire of all 468 laid-off custodians and placement in their original assignments and management under Operating Engineers.