Photo: Workers rally outside Hillsborough County School Board offices in May against privatization plans.
By Aida Demar
On October 11, the Hillsborough School Employees Federation (HSEF), the union which represents the custodians and other workers in the district, announced that Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) will not be privatizing the custodial force and will instead begin a pilot program of centralizing custodial operations. This plan, proposed by union leaders as an alternative way to cut costs in the district, will result in hundreds of workers losing their jobs while the rest are exploited even more.
In March, when the school board announced that it would be exploring privatization as an option to balance its budget, the HSEF began a campaign against it. In secret, the President of the HSEF, Iran Alicea, a former detective with the New York Police Department and a leader in its police union, and Vice President Stephanie MacNeel negotiated with HCPS and helped draw up the centralization plan which is now being implemented.
According to the report by the Gibson Consulting Group regarding efficiency improvements in HCPS, the centralized model is designed to squeeze the maximum productivity out of the workers, increasing workloads by an average of 50% while getting rid of nearly a third of employees through attrition.
Over the next few years, less than 962 employees will be working to clean what previously was done by 1,730 workers. This will save the district an estimated $10 million a year once fully implemented, even as school board representatives continue to enjoy large salaries and benefits.
The leadership of HSEF went to the school board with a plan for centralization with the intention of serving the district’s financial needs, not the interests of the workers. They, like all union bosses, are labor aristocrats who traffic in the workers’ struggle and function as negotiators and managers of exploitation.
Because of their subservience to the district, the HSEF could only respond to the district’s privatization plans by misleading the workers to accept higher workloads and staff reduction, all while painting it as a victory. The first step to resisting this increased exploitation will be to discard this sell-out union in favor of proletarian leadership that can organize the workers to fight for their demands, not those of the school district bosses.