Employees Union works against privatization of Dell Medical School jobs

Lauren Florence

As the Dell Medical School is in the process of choosing bidders for various maintenance jobs in the school’s medical office building, the University’s Texas State Employees Union said it doesn’t want these positions outsourced.  

The Dell Medical School’s operational leaders said they’ve had limited interaction with the union. An official statement from the school said the union’s worries are “misunderstandings,” and that better future communications will hopefully help avoid any more confusion.

According to an official statement by Dell Medical School, the contractor selected will hire from the local community to staff the operations, which will create good jobs in maintenance, landscaping and custodial work for Austinites.

“The University will select the bidder who provides the best value for the people who work here and the taxpayers, families, donors and others who support the University,” officials said in a statement from the Dell Medical School. “That decision will take factors other than cost into consideration.”

The last day to submit a bid for the office building’s property management services was Aug. 26, and the bids are currently under review.

Sara Castle, organizer for the union, said the group can’t estimate how many bids might go to public workers since it doesn’t know how many bids the medical school is reviewing.

“We want those jobs to go to public workers,” Castle said. “We’ve won privatization bids before. We’re keeping an eye on other buildings, too, because privatization is always a concern at UT.”

The union said contracting out services would not create good jobs, and increased taxes should create good jobs for Austinites, according to the union’s website.

Anne Lewis, a radio-television-film senior lecturer and member of the Texas State Employee Union’s executive board, said privatizing public services hurts workers by slashing benefits, wages and hours. She said problems that privatized public services cause include understaffing, mismanagement and costliness.

“We must stop this privatization scheme,” Lewis said. “We need good state jobs for all employees, and this includes the food service and custodial workers.”

The statement said the medical school’s utilities, landscapes, academic building, research facility and parking garage will all be staffed and maintained by UT employees, with the medical office building being the only exception. The office building will require employees with expertise in operational support of a clinical facility, which public UT employees are not trained in.

“From the beginning, UT Austin has planned for another entity to initially manage the [office building], due to our lack of experience with managing an environment for delivering clinical services,” officials said in the statement. “A successful launch of the medical school and clinical care environment is dependent on a workforce that is knowledgeable about the needs of each enterprise.”

The Dell Medical School is scheduled to start classes June, 27, 2016. Given the aggressive schedule of the Dell Medical School project and the unique, extreme regulatory business challenges associated with the operation, public employees at UT don’t currently have the expertise the office building requires, according the statement.

The opening of the medical school and complex will bring about 15,000 total jobs to Austin, and the economic development of the complex is estimated to have an impact of nearly $2 billion in annual spending, according to economic analysis and public policy consulting firm TXP, Inc.