WTAMU is officially in contract negotiations with SSC Service Solutions to manage building maintenance, landscaping services and custodial services at the university. The two sides came to terms on a nonbinding letter of intent in February, and the move is expected to save the A&M System around $92.3 million over a 12-year term to outsource WT and 15 other A&M System universities.
Officials from SSC met with WT officials on March 27, but no details of the contract were discussed at that time. University President J. Patrick O’Brien and vice president for Business and Finance, Gary Barnes, are currently negotiating terms of the contract with SSC.
Danny Smith, associate vice president for Physical Facilities at WT, said while there really isn’t a whole lot of new information, SSC president Don Williams has met with the managers of the physical plant. Williams assured, aside from a change in retirement plans from Teacher Retirement System of Texas to 401K, all aspects would remain the same.
“He said it many, many times,” Smith said. “He wants to squelch those rumors. He said, ‘Listen to me carefully. You’re going to keep your job, you’re going to keep your pay, you’re going to keep your benefits and you’re going to keep your hours.’ Those (details) were part of the rumors.”
Smith said physical plant managers asked Barnes when they would have clear answers and details, and his response was they hope to know for sure in two weeks.
“The managers have said they are tired of being in limbo,” Smith said. “Hopefully, in two weeks, we’ll know whether we’re going to sign the contract or not. Everybody’s nervous and on pins and needles, and everybody’s got questions, but we’re ready to get it over with and see some action.”
Larry Croy, director of Physical Plant Operations at WT, said he has been telling employees that if a contract is signed with SSC, let the waters calm and see how things work out before deciding to jump ship.
“Any time you’re looking at a change like this, where you are potentially going to be working for a new employer, there’s a lot of anxiety,” Croy said. “We have a lot more questions right now than we do answers. We all like to control our future to the point of predictability, and right now there are people that don’t feel like they can.”
Croy said while he assumes negotiations between WTAMU and SSC are quite intense, he believes the best thing to do is to let those negotiations play themselves out and for employees of the physical plant to continue providing their high levels of service.
“Our jobs are not stopping,” Croy said. “We’re still getting requests for demand maintenance responses and we’re going out and doing them. That’s the best thing we can do, is just keep doing what we’re doing. This thing can’t go on forever.”
Larry Bedwell, professional manager of Grounds at WT, said he felt better about things when O’Brien and Barnes informed the managers they would be negotiating to ensure physical plant employees would remain a part of the university, such as staff council, if a contract is agreed upon.
“We don’t have a choice in this, but WT has a choice to allow us to stay engaged with the university,” Bedwell said. “They said they would negotiate to ensure that we keep our WT identity, even though we’re being paid by someone else.”
Bedwell said he has concerns about future physical plant employees lacking the emotional investment and pride in the university that current employees possess.
“I graduated from WT, and I came to work for WT,” Bedwell said. “This is close to my heart. I’m worried about hiring a guy to mow, and someone asking him where the (Classroom Center) is and he says, ‘I don’t know, I just mow.’ Keeping us feeling like we’re still a part of WT will keep that closeness and family bond.”