Western Michigan University Studies Privatization

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University (WMU) is bidding out custodial and food services at its main campus in Kalamazoo. The new contracts would affect 51 unionized university employees, according to the Western Herald, a publication of WMU. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Dan Birch has said that if private firms provided those services, university employees now providing the work would lose their jobs. He also told Herald News Editor Karolyn Glowe that he believes AFSCME employees could do a better job, adding that “the union would be happy to discuss ways to improve efficiency.”

Don Alexander, professor of economics at Western Michigan University and adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy disagrees with Birch over the job losses. “It is likely that most of the current AFSCME employees would not lose their jobs, per se, but would simply switch employers. Nationwide, we’ve seen for-profit vendors hire many, if not most of formerly public employees because of their expertise,” Alexander told MPR. Professor Alexander also pointed out that just the prospect of competitively bidding these services has already worked to improve them.

“The university’s announcement that it may pursue a private vendor to provide custodial and food services has already led the union that represents them to talk about ‘improving the efficiency of their operations,’” Alexander said. “This probably wouldn’t have happened without some competition knocking at the AFSCME door,” he added.