It’s 11 p.m. on a weekday, and while many North Dakotans are just going to bed to prepare for another day of hard work, Amanda Filipy is just starting hers. She is the building services supervisor at University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, and regularly works overnight. While the campus is quiet, Filipy and her crew of custodians are keeping facilities spotless.

“Normally when I start the night,” Filipy said, “I check in with my crew to make sure everyone’s here, checking out and see if we have any work orders that they need to deal with throughout the night. And then, depending on if we have people out, I’ll be covering areas with my lead or else I’ll go around and do a comeback, do paperwork, timecards. And then go around checking to see what my employees need. If they need help with projects or whatnot.”

She supervises crews in nine buildings at UND. “I’m in charge of Harrington, Upson II, Upson I, CEC, Leonard, Starcher, Hyslop, the Core Library and the Steam Plant,” she said. “I’m in charge of the crews that clean all of those, plus I’m in charge of the carpet crew that cleans all the carpets all over campus, and the carpet crew is three guys.”

Amanda Filipy outside her office on the campus of University of North Dakota.

Filipy is fiercely loyal to her crew and worries about their future at UND. There are rumors circling on campus that administration is considering a plan to privatize custodial functions in all the academic buildings, to save on costs. The state Legislature has already made severe budget cuts to higher education in the 2017 session, and the Governor’s budget plan for the next biennium calls for a cut of more than $50 million in state appropriation funds. If the Legislature approves of that plan, higher education appropriations will have been cut by a full one-third in just four years. And that will mean hard-working public employees, like Filipy and her co-workers, might lose their jobs, at a time that they can hardly afford to.

“I mean, I work three jobs,” Filipy said. “And I’m one of the higher paid within facilities because of my title. Still, I’m a single mom and trying to make ends meet. It’s rough. Even my lead, who has been here for 20 years, he’s working two full-time jobs. At one of my other jobs, one of the ladies who works for me, she’s working three jobs.”

They have managed to make things work for them, though, and Filipy said that her employees are dedicated to UND and the community they serve. “I have got a couple people on my crew that are second-generation UND employees or third-generation,” Filipy said. “Some of them have a lot of years invested in here, not only themselves but their fathers and mothers. You don’t find that very many places.”

First founded in 1883, UND is the state’s oldest longest-operating post-secondary institution. It is a cornerstone to Grand Forks’ economy, as one of the city’s top employers and the place that attracts talented young minds to this city and our state and prepares them to lead their North Dakota communities in the future. As UND goes, so goes Grand Forks. And so, it’s important to see the university operating at full strength, and not struggling to retain high-quality employees.

“That’s become something of an issue that’s just popped up in the last couple months of them thinking of outsourcing academic custodial, having a private company come in and do what we do,” Filipy said. “We have been told that we are given a year to try to see how things go. But it’s now become public knowledge because it actually just came up on the Staff Senate website where they answered a question about it. They said that they had looked into it and they’re still not sure what they’re going to do. It would be 150 positions, I believe, that would be eliminated if they did outsource.”

From the June 2018 Suggestion Box page on the UND Staff Senate website, this question was asked: “It has come to my attention that Facilities is looking to outsource the custodial duties on campus. Do we know the impact this will have on the Departmental costs as well as the over 200 employees who will no longer have jobs? I find this rather upsetting to see fellow Staff members lose their livelihood.”

Mike Pieper, associate vice president of facilities, answered the question by affirming that he had asked CORE Management Services to “help determine if it would be more financially beneficial to outsource UND’s custodial services and if there was any private company willing to start up operations in Grand Forks, ND.” He stated that he had received a verbal assessment that it was “probable” that UND could outsource non-housing custodial services and achieve the same quality level for a lower cost, and that “there were 3-4 national custodial services companies that would be willing to start up operations in Grand Forks, ND.” The quality of services claim is certainly debatable, but Filipy points out another feature of their current workforce that can’t be replaced easily: trust.

“I was talking to my sister, who lives in Colorado, Filipy said. “She said (at her workplace) they won’t let outsourced people come in and clean out there because of privacy issues. That’s the same thing with us. We have to go through a background check to be employed here. Who knows who’s going to be cleaning the buildings? We have labs and multi-million dollar equipment in here; we have the simulators in aerospace. And then you’ve got the people who are working on patents. What happens if somebody comes in that office and sees it and says, ‘I can take this’?”

Filipy is a member of North Dakota United, and is doing what she can to convince her co-workers to organize and fight for their positions. “We need somebody who’s going to be in our corner, to understand what we’re going through.” She said she wants to get the word out to faculty and staff at UND that their co-workers and fellow union members are facing some pretty severe obstacles, and they need to stand strong, together.

“I know one lady, she’s the only income in her house because her husband is disabled and they’re living, a family of four, on her income. That’s really rough. It’s hard. So like I said, we need somebody who was going to be there and could fight for us.”

(Since the publication of this article in the September issue of our North Dakota United member magazine, United Voices, Amanda Filipy has left employment at UND.)