Milwaukee panel includes costly ‘living wage’ in housekeeping proposal

Adam Tobias
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Apr 18, 2014 5:00 AM
Milwaukee panel includes costly ‘living wage’ in housekeeping proposal

By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

WHY PAY MORE?: A Milwaukee County panel has approved a resolution from Supervisor David Bowen guaranteeing that taxpayers will spend $2 million more for janitorial services.

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — There’s no longer any uncertainty Milwaukee County taxpayers will have to spend nearly $2 million more for janitorial services because of the county’s Big Labor-influenced “living wage.”

The Milwaukee County Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee on Thursday approved a resolution by a 7-0 vote guaranteeing the next firm chosen to clean specific county facilities will have to pay their employees a wage of at least $11.32 an hour.

The resolution, presented by Supervisor David Bowen, who wrote the local living wage ordinance with help from Service Employees International Union-affiliated officials, requires several county agencies to reissue a request for proposal for housekeeping services at about 15 government buildings.

The resolution was revised after several board members raised questions over whether companies could side-step paying the minimum wage of $11.32 an hour if the RFP went out prior to May 19, the day the living wage takes effect.

Supervisor Theodore Lipscomb’s amendment, which also passed 7-0, ensures that firms will have to comply with the county’s living wage ordinance, regardless of the date the new RFP is issued.

The Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services had asked supervisors to lock in a $3.4 million deal with CleanPower, a private janitorial firm in Wauwatosa, before May 19 because of the additional burden to taxpayers.

The living wage is expected to add $1.98 million in housekeeping costs over the next three years, according to a fiscal analysis by Milwaukee County Comptroller Scott Manske.

“We just wanted to make sure everybody understood why we reintroduced the contract,” Stephanie Gulizia, contract administrator for the Milwaukee County Procurement Division, told the committee. “We felt we had a fiduciary obligation to taxpayers.”

The Department of Administrative Services selected CleanPower as the desired company to clean the county buildings in June 2013 after a request for proposal was sent out in October 2012.

But the board overwhelmingly rejected the contract with CleanPower in November 2013 because of concerns over the procurement process and a desire to rehire about 20 former county housekeeper who were laid off in late 2009 when the county privatized its janitorial operations.

The committee further felt the need to approve Bowen’s resolution after Jeffrey Packee, president of CleanPower, said his company’s original agreement has since changed to include an option for paying the living wage.

“If there are going to be different elements that would affect the price or other conditions (in an agreement), those would have to be in a new RFP,” Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren informed committee members.

Bowen, who hasn’t returned calls or emails from Wisconsin Reporter over the past few months, also proposed the resolution because he claims the CleanPower contract was “bundled” to effectively deny minority firms an opportunity to be the primary contractor.

The new legislation restructures the RFP with the goal of helping Disadvantaged Business Enterprise companies compete as main contractors or subcontractors.

Rick Norris, director of the Milwaukee County Community Business Development Partners Department, warned that “unbundling” the agreements would not guarantee a DBE firm would be hired as the lead contractor.

He also said the additional contracts would require more management tasks for the county.

CleanPower, which already maintains several county buildings, is meeting the county’s DBE participation rate of 25 percent, according to Norris.

Contact Adam Tobias at atobias@watchdog.org or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias