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Hill brothers, Van Huss urge Northeast State to 'consider alternative' to outsourcing

Zach Vance • Jun 28, 2018 at 10:38 PM

Northeast Tennessee state lawmakers are urging Northeast State Community College leaders to “consider alternatives” when it comes to outsourcing janitorial and maintenance services to a third-party company.

Reps. Matthew Hill, Timothy Hill and Micah Van Huss made their stance on outsourcing known in a Thursday press release, saying they were strong advocates for the employees whose jobs might be jeopardized if Northeast State opts into the outsourcing contract with Jones Lang LaSalle, or JLL.

Last year, Tennessee and JLL agreed to a contract to provide an option for outsourcing janitorial and maintenance services to state agencies and schools.

So far, Austin Peay State University and Cleveland State Community College have agreed to outsource with JLL.

Even though JLL projected it could save the University of Tennessee’s four campuses $6.8 million if it agreed to outsource its custodial, maintenance and landscaping services, former UTK chancellor Beverly Davenport decided to decline the option.

“I believe institutions like Northeast State must make responsible decisions and consider that their bottom line should not negatively impact these important groups — especially our hardworking families who depend on their current jobs to provide for their loved ones,” Rep. Matthew Hill was quoted as saying in the press release.

“I would ask that officials consider all possible outcomes related to outsourcing their services before moving forward with any new facilities services plans.

Van Huss added, “Outsourcing of jobs may benefit the bottom line on paper, but I would urge Northeast State to also factor in the overall impact to the college, its employees, and our community as a whole. Cheaper does not necessarily mean better.”

Despite lawmakers’ concern, even if Northeast State agrees to outsource some of its services, JLL Director Tom Foster said his company is contractually obligated to retain all current employees, subject to them completing a standard criminal background check and drug screening.

Additionally, Foster said former state employees who transitioned to JLL now earn nearly 40 percent more than when they worked for the state.

“JLL, working with the State of Tennessee, continues to engage Tennessee higher education institutions in order to conduct collaborative evaluation of the benefits of joining the state contract for facilities maintenance, landscaping and other services. We are confident that JLL can help Tennessee’s colleges and universities achieve major savings while ensuring high quality services,” Foster said in a statement.

Dennis Prater, a member of the United Campus Workers union and a Democrat running for Washington County Commission, applauded the lawmakers’ statement supporting current Northeast State employees.

“This is great news. It's a testament to the hard work and good organizing the United Campus Workers union has done to make it known that people don't like outsourcing because we want what is best for our communities,” Prater said.

Northeast State President James King said he appreciated the concern the Hill brothers and Van Huss have for his college’s employees.

“I plan to give full consideration to the recommendations put forth by the (Northeast Tennessee) Legislative Delegation regarding the Jones Lang and LaSalle proposal,” King said in a statement.

“I have emphasized to the college’s maintenance and custodial staff that Northeast State will evaluate the proposal fully and act in the best interests of the College and its employees.”

King did not specify when he would make that decision regarding the JLL contract.

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