Of all of the bad ideas I have heard for addressing the economic pain caused by COVID-19, one stands out as a moral and ethical assault on some of the most vulnerable residents of Columbia and its surrounding communities. On Tuesday, May 12, MU announced that it is considering privatization of custodial and landscaping services as a means of offsetting some of the budget shortfalls it faces. If this idea is still under consideration, I would urge leadership of the university to reject this plan immediately.

Privatization is not the panacea for employment cost challenges that corporatist management often projects. Privatization, within the context of the University of Missouri, is a strategy of replacing decent jobs with decent benefits with minimum wage jobs with few, if any, benefits. It is a strategy of cutting the pay of the most vulnerable employees (if they are able to be reemployed by the subcontractor) by approximately 40%, while administrators with six-figure salaries are asked only to reduce their income by a mere 10% over the next few months.

MU is an essential institution for Columbia, Boone County and the entire state of Missouri. We should look forward to a future in which students can return to pursue their educational goals in a safe, secure and sanitary environment. Custodians are essential to assure that the facilities of the university meet the standards of sanitation necessary for reopening classrooms, offices and laboratories. Public institutions should stand as vanguards of best practices in employment and social policies.

I spent nearly 20 years employed at MU, and for most of that time I was proud of the university’s record of ethical leadership and community engagement. There were many economic crises over that 20-year period, and, for the most part, the university found equitable and humane solutions for short-term economic crises. I urge leadership of the university to continue on this path of equity by rejecting any plan that would balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable employees of the institution. Privatization of essential custodial and other basic services is a bottom-feeder strategy for balancing a budget, devoid of humane and ethical value to the people of Missouri.

Paul Rainsberger submitted this letter on behalf of Missouri Jobs with Justice.


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