Living wage could cost Milwaukee County $2M more for janitorial services

By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Milwaukee County taxpayers could see nearly $2 million in tax relief over the next three years if the county’s new union-influenced living wage wasn’t standing in the way.

CLEAN AND SAVE: The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors could save taxpayers $2 million over three years by approving a janitorial services contract before the county’s living wage takes effect.

Taxpayers can only realize the $1.98 million in projected savings if the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors locks in a deal for janitorial services before May 19 when the $11.32-an-hour living wage takes effect.

But Supervisor Steve Taylor told Wisconsin Reporter he wouldn’t be surprised if the 12 members of the board who fought for the living wage either waited until after that date to take any action or voted against the proposed contract with CleanPower, a private housekeeping firm in Wauwatosa.

“Nothing amazes me down here anymore,” Taylor said.

It appears Supervisor David Bowen, who wrote the living wage ordinance with help from Service Employees International Union-affiliated officials, is already trying to delay a vote on the matter.

Bowen will introduce a resolution at Thursday’s Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee calling for county agencies to issue a new request for proposal for providing housekeeping services at county facilities.

The Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services chose CleanPower as the desired company to maintain several 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 October 2013, partly because some supervisors were interested in rehiring about 20 former county janitors who were laid off in late 2009 when the county privatized its housekeeping operations.

Legislation bringing back those employees to clean the county courthouse complex failed to get enough votes March 20.

The Department of Administrative Services is now asking the board to reconsider the original proposal with CleanPower, which has offered to clean about 15 county facilities from May 1 to April 30, 2015, for $3,374,645.

The contract also includes two one-year renewal options, with negotiated price adjustments not to exceed 3 percent of either the Consumer Price Index or Producer Price Index, Department of Administrative Services Director Don Tyler informed board members in a March 28 memo.

If the board fails to approve the agreement before May 19, the living wage will add an estimated $612,636 in janitorial costs in 2014, $659,480 in 2015 and $706,390 in 2016, according to a fiscal report by Milwaukee County Comptroller Scott Manske.

The housekeeping contract also is on the agenda of Thursday’s Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee meeting.

“Anytime we are in a position to save money and improve service that’s something we should consider,” Tyler said in a statement to Wisconsin Reporter. “I hope the board takes a serious look at how this will benefit taxpayers and approves it.”

Bowen didn’t return several calls or emails seeking comment. The other 11 supervisors who supported the living wage also didn’t respond to emails inquiring about the proposed housekeeping agreement.

Bowen says in his resolution he is seeking the new bids because of concerns over the original request for proposal procedures used by the Department of Administrative Services. He claims the CleanPower agreement was “bundled” to effectively deny minority firms an opportunity to be the primary contractor.

Tyler said in an April 8 email to supervisors that the original request for proposal clearly outlined a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation requirement of 25 percent. CleanPower met that threshold as determined by the Milwaukee County Community Business Development Partners Department, according to Tyler.

CleanPower’s historical use of DBE contractors through August 2013 has exceeded 28 percent, Tyler said.

Supervisor Deanna Alexander also told Wisconsin Reporter she has personally visited the offices of CleanPower to check on several allegations, one of which involved the firm always charging its staff for proof of employment to receive government assistance.

“When I went there, I found that some of the information I had been given by people opposed to the contract that came out and publically testified was incorrect,” Alexander said. “Now that I’ve talked with different people at all levels in the company … I’ve been assured that the things I had questions about are no longer concerns.”

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

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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