Wittenberg University’s attorney said Friday it cannot opt out of its contract with a new company to allow time for current housekeepers to develop a non-profit cooperative to provide the service.
David A. Campbell of the Columbus firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease sent a three-page letter on behalf of Wittenberg to Julie C. Ford, attorney for the Housekeeping Cooperative Viability Committee. Campbell said opting out of the contract with WFF Facilities Services would be “not only unlawful, but … inconsistent with good-faith business practices and operational integrity.”
WFF is scheduled to replace ABM Jan. 1 as the company that provides housekeeping services to the university. The contract represents a $600,000 annual savings over the current ABM contract at a time when the university is facing a $7 million budget gap and is considering faculty and academic program cuts. The agreement with WFF is $300,000 less than a revised bid the university invited ABM to submit as a result of their longtime relationship.
Tuesday, protesters outside Wittenberg’s Benham-Pence Student Center objected to the new contract because it would slash the wages and benefits of current housekeepers who choose to apply for jobs with WFF.
Protesters advocated “a living wage” for all members of the university community and challenged Wittenberg to live up to values it espouses.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Darrell Kitchen, the university’s vice president for business and finance, the committee sketched out a vision of an employee-operated cooperative, arguing it offered Wittenberg a way to “better meet the twin goals of budget savings and social justice as called upon by (the university’s) mission.”
In that letter, the committee asked the university to “examine its opt-out clause” with WFF “to make sure the university can get out of the contract without liability in addition to determining how long the opt-out clause is in effect.”
In his response, the university’s attorney said the proposal process “was modified to provide every opportunity to ABM and the ABM employees to submit a competitive bid.” He added that “at this time, the WFF contract has been executed and WFF has begun implementation.”
In an email to organizer and sociology professor David Nibert, Kitchen said that “by not following through on our good-faith efforts and contractual obligations to WFF, we would be placing our University at risk of not only losing credibility, but also of assuming a significant liability moving forward.”
In a response to Kitchen and President Laurie Joyner, Nibert called the reasons for the university’s decision “shallow” and “legalistic,” and said “you continue to let financial considerations eclipse moral and ethical concerns and Wittenberg’s responsibility to promote social justice.”