Leadership for Public Education

Subcontracting: What's it all about?


Subcontracting, privatization, out- sourcing, contracting out - these are all processes whereby an employer turns over the performance of a particular service or the management of a facility or department to a for-profit company. This process is often presented as a way for the employer to reduce costs and ease the burden for administrators. 

Subcontracting means that employees who currently occupy the impacted positions will most likely be fired. They may, or may not, be hired by the for-profit company. Employers who subcontract services may find that anticipated cost savings are illusory; administrative staff must still oversee the contractor's work, and accountability can be lost.

Contracting out is increasingly being used as leverage by management to force concessions at the bargaining table, as more and more employers adopt an attitude that their ability to pay the union's price is not the issue - the issue is management's unwillingness to pay that price. A new twist to this game is called “corporatizing,” in which unions aren't just forced to make concessions to keep members' jobs, but instead actually bid against the outside companies' price.

What can we do about it?

How can we reverse the trend of selling off our jobs? The fight against contracting out must be fought on multiple fronts, including internal union strategies, educating the public, and coalition building.

The primary arena in which to fight the threat of contracting out is the court of public opinion. This is the first and the best place to prevent the threat of privatization. All locals should adopt and pursue a program  of internal and community organizing as a preventative measure well before the issue arises. This is truly one area where a proactive, offensive plan is far better than a defensive one. It is not enough to be right and to have a good argument; decision makers and community members must know that we are serious about defending jobs and the quality of the services provided by our members. 

Think of planning and implementing your internal and external organizing campaigns in the same way you think of purchasing an insurance policy - a policy that might one day save jobs. Remember, you can't buy insurance after the accident!

PSEA has resources to fight subcontracting.

Fighting subcontracting threats is nothing new for PSEA. For many years, we have been fighting this battle for Education Support Professionals (ESP). School districts have tradition- ally targeted this group of members to subcontract. PSEA has developed a number of strategies to ward off subcontracting threats.

Your UniServ Representative and Communications/Organizing Program Specialist (COPS) can help your local develop an organizing plan. With a proactive plan your local will be in a better position to avert a serious subcontracting threat.