UT Holds Meetings to Address Custodians' Accusations, But They Don't Seem to Calm Nerves

Last Thursday, University of Tennessee Associate Vice Chancellor Dave Irvin held several meetings with Building Services employees. Irvin is the head of the entire Facilities Services department, which is in charge of Building Services, which provides custodial services for most of the UT campus, as well as landscaping and maintenance services.

The meetings were mandatory for all custodial employees, and were held during each shift. There were separate meetings for employees who clean the athletic facilities and employees who clean the academic facilities, but what Irvin told them, in a prepared statement that lasted about 50 minutes long, was the same: Yes, we have made a few mistakes, and yes, we have a few employees who have acted inappropriately, but otherwise almost all the allegations of the problematic workplace culture in Building Services (as documented in Metro Pulse two weeks ago) are completely false.

Irvin denied the practice of retaliatory transfers or scheduling. He denied there was a gag order preventing custodial employees from talking to “customers” (as he continually referred to other UT employees and students in buildings being cleaned), even as he admitted some people had been written up for talking to faculty members.

He denied that any employees, specifically union representatives, had been intentionally isolated, assigned to buildings alone and far away from other employees. He denied that people had been written up for taking sick leave, although he said that at least two employees eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act had been written up because, when they called in sick, they didn’t specifically request that they wanted to use FMLA time. And he denied two allegations of nepotistic hiring.

Bob Caudill, the director of facilities operations and second-in-command behind Irvin over Building Services, would not let this reporter into the 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. meetings for second-shift employees last Thursday. However, Melissa Murray, a custodian in athletics, recorded the meetings for both the athletics and academics staff and provided us with the video for the first meeting and audio for the first and second meetings. We also talked to several people who were present at one or the other of the meetings.

According to several employees who attended the second meeting, Irvin lost his temper near the end, after longtime employee Tami Shultz asked him a question about uniforms violations. This account is backed up by the recording of the meeting, which Murray made openly and with Irvin’s knowledge.

The altercation occurred an hour and four minutes into the meeting, about 10 minutes after Irvin had started taking questions from employees. Shultz held up a copy of the “Professional Image and Uniform Policy,” a document she told us later was specifically created by Irvin. She noted that the document says all employees are required to wear uniforms and steel-toed boots while on the job. Irvin agreed. She asked, “The foremen too?” Irvin replied, “That includes the foremen, too, yes.” Shultz then asked why a certain foreman had not been penalized for not wearing a uniform. Irvin said that the employee in question should be wearing one and instructed Shultz to give Caudill the employee’s name.

It’s at this point things go crazy.

Shultz says that when she was given the direction to talk to Caudill, she rolled her eyes. “I know I shouldn’t have done that,” Shultz admits. “But I instinctively rolled my eyes because Bob Caudill doesn’t listen. It just goes in one ear and out the other.”

But roll her eyes she did. And according to several witnesses, when Irvin saw her do that, he pushed back the lapels of his blazer, ran across the room—Shultz was 15 rows back, she says—and got in her face, about half a foot away.

“You’re asking me why they should have to wear it? Yes! I’m trying not to lose my temper but …” Irvin said heatedly, before the recording becomes unintelligible with people shouting.

He finally made himself heard above the crowd. “But I don’t know what foreman you’re talking about! I need to know what foreman you’re talking about!” And then several people, including Shultz, shouted out the foreman’s name.

Another employee at the meeting who declined to give her name for fear of retribution confirmed Murray and Shultz’s account. She also said Irvin did the same thing to her in a meeting about a year ago, after she questioned a statement he made about how UT promotes its employees.

“He’s that close and, like, you don’t know what he’s going to do. … He’s not very professional at all. If he’s going to be over 220-something or however many people, he needs to learn how to control his temper.”

According to Josh Smyser, a custodial employee who was also present at the Thursday meeting, Irvin lost his temper in a similar fashion at a staff meeting in March, held to address the same allegations of mistreatment.

“I was surprised he even let anyone ask questions this time,” Smyser says, adding that Irvin’s temper makes it less likely anyone will approach him about problems in the department, although Irvin stressed throughout both meetings his open-door policy.

“It kind of gives the lie to what he’s saying about respect, if he’s just going to blow up about boots. If he can’t keep his cool about something like that, is he going to keep his cool if you approach him about something like racist remarks? I don’t think so,” Smyser says.

Irvin is on vacation this week and did not respond to an e-mail. However, UT spokesperson Amy Ragsdale Blakely says she spoke with Irvin and he denies physically intimidating Shultz. (We provided both Irvin and the Office of Communications with copies of the audio recording of the incident.)

“Dave says it was frustrating and he did raise his voice,” Blakely says. “He responded the best way he could and tried to keep it under control. … He did not, would not get in her face.” Blakely says if Irvin ever got anywhere close to Shultz, it’s because he has a tendency to wander around while talking.

Still, last Thursday’s meeting was supposed to be an attempt by administrators to quell growing outrage within the custodial staff at their treatment at the hands of supervisors. This meeting was supposed to be different from March’s meeting in that the foremen of the shift workers were not allowed to be present, in order to encourage otherwise intimidated employees to speak up.

But the unnamed employee says that within 30 minutes of the meeting’s end, her foreman approached her about remarks she made at the meeting that he perceived as being critical, despite not being in attendance.

After this meeting, employees say they’re doubtful any number of future meetings will produce the desired results: respect.

“We have been misled for so long,” Murray says. “I think he’s only having these meeting with us now because he doesn’t want the upper hands to find out what’s been going on.”

© 2013 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 6

firstgradersaresmarterthanyou writes:

Unfortunately, you cannot cure laziness. Where is the journalism for the workers that are happy? Where are the remarks made by some that expressed outrage at the union people being intimidating when asking why aren't they are going to the meetings? How about the remarks that expressed outrage at the complaining employees attempting to speak on the happy workers' behalf? Where are the answers for workers who are always late, and calling in sick on a regular basis, and we have to cover their work? These are the same ones who were being loud and proud in the meeting. These are not my fellow workers, because they don't want to work. They want it like it was, so no one watches over them. There are more happy employees than unhappy ones. Just because you have to work, doesn't mean you're being disrespected.

It makes for good headlines though.

dialecticsines writes:

"Where is the journalism for the workers that are happy?"

There are no happy workers. The only happy workers on the planet are those that have ownership and control over their workplace.

"Where are the remarks made by some that expressed outrage at the union people being intimidating when asking why aren't they are going to the meetings?"

There are none. Meetings are voluntary in the union and no pressure is placed on worker to sacrifice their time or livelihoods to participate in the organization. The workers join the union and pay dues in good faith that the dedicated staff and volunteers will work to support them. Members who want to attend meetings can and are encouraged to, members who don't want to don't have to, simple as that.

"How about the remarks that expressed outrage at the complaining employees attempting to speak on the happy workers' behalf?"

There are none, except from doughy middle men like yourself who have the luxury of complaining on the internet at noon, instead of doing labor. These workers have not been afforded the luxury of being a whiny child like yourself.

"Where are the answers for workers who are always late, and calling in sick on a regular basis, and we have to cover their work?"

Don't pretend like you are a "we" here. You do not work in the same line of work as these people, lest you wouldn't be complaining on here, and would instead be licking your bosses boots for an extra penny a week.

"These are not my fellow workers, because they don't want to work. They want it like it was, so no one watches over them. There are more happy employees than unhappy ones. Just because you have to work, doesn't mean you're being disrespected."

Indeed, they are not your fellow workers because you are not a member of the working class, considering the luxuries that have been detailed, such as your luxury to complain on the internet during working hours. If you worked in this position, you would probably be asleep at noon since these are second shift workers. Instead, considering that this is your first post on this website, and that you joined today, May 16, in all likelihood you are a paid hack, by UTK, Knox County GOP, or some other anti-worker entity.

Godspeed to the workers, and may they struggle hard and fast to annihilate the power and ideology of persons like yourself.

firstgradersaresmarterthanyou writes:

in response to dialecticsines:

"Where is the journalism for the workers that are happy?"

There are no happy workers. The only happy workers on the planet are those that have ownership and control over their workplace.

"Where are the remarks made by some that expressed outrage at the union people being intimidating when asking why aren't they are going to the meetings?"

There are none. Meetings are voluntary in the union and no pressure is placed on worker to sacrifice their time or livelihoods to participate in the organization. The workers join the union and pay dues in good faith that the dedicated staff and volunteers will work to support them. Members who want to attend meetings can and are encouraged to, members who don't want to don't have to, simple as that.

"How about the remarks that expressed outrage at the complaining employees attempting to speak on the happy workers' behalf?"

There are none, except from doughy middle men like yourself who have the luxury of complaining on the internet at noon, instead of doing labor. These workers have not been afforded the luxury of being a whiny child like yourself.

"Where are the answers for workers who are always late, and calling in sick on a regular basis, and we have to cover their work?"

Don't pretend like you are a "we" here. You do not work in the same line of work as these people, lest you wouldn't be complaining on here, and would instead be licking your bosses boots for an extra penny a week.

"These are not my fellow workers, because they don't want to work. They want it like it was, so no one watches over them. There are more happy employees than unhappy ones. Just because you have to work, doesn't mean you're being disrespected."

Indeed, they are not your fellow workers because you are not a member of the working class, considering the luxuries that have been detailed, such as your luxury to complain on the internet during working hours. If you worked in this position, you would probably be asleep at noon since these are second shift workers. Instead, considering that this is your first post on this website, and that you joined today, May 16, in all likelihood you are a paid hack, by UTK, Knox County GOP, or some other anti-worker entity.

Godspeed to the workers, and may they struggle hard and fast to annihilate the power and ideology of persons like yourself.

To answer my dear union rep.
"The only happy workers..."
This sounds eerily similar to socialism:
A political and economic theory of that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated...
(in Marxist theory) A transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.
For sure Narcissism.
Back to the rebuttal...
How about taking ownership and doing the job assigned, so my fellow workers and I don't have to pick up the slack. Your disposition is classic answer, and you don't know EVERYONE's feelings, especially ours.
""Where are the remarks made by some that expressed outrage at the union people being intimidating..."
"There are none. Meetings..."
Okay...
Please answer why your 'reps' come to me, while I am working no less, and attempt to put words in my mouth, so they can take and give misinformation to the media.
"How about the remarks that expressed outrage at the complaining employees attempting to speak on the happy workers' behalf?"
"There are none, except from doughy middle men like yourself who have the luxury of complaining on the internet at noon, instead of doing labor. These workers have not been afforded the luxury of being a whiny child like yourself."
Psst...
I have a video and audio of the meeting, too.
On the other items, you're contentious remarks prove your inability to debate logically and without insult. Therefore, lending all to believe your defensive posture is to shield your lack of intellectual power.
"Where are the answers for workers who are always late, and calling in sick on a regular basis, and we have to cover their work?"
"Don't pretend like you are a "we" here. You do not work in the same line of work as these people, lest you wouldn't be complaining on here, and would instead be licking your bosses boots for an extra penny a week."
Deflect attention from the facts. Just like the intent of the meetings. Please refer back to my last rebuttal (.."insults..").
I am a 'we', and WE are happy. :)
""These are not my fellow workers, because they don't want to work…””
“Indeed, they are not your fellow workers because you are not a member of the working class…”
Wow! My response will be the same as my last.
"Godspeed to the workers, and may they struggle hard and fast to annihilate the power and ideology of persons like yourself."
You're beginning to scare me now...
I repeat...SOCIALISM
"A political and economic theory of that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated...
(in Marxist theory) A transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism."
Perhaps you need to spend more time with us workers...just saying.
Thank you for the banter.

dialecticsines writes:

So, you are assuredly not a custodial worker since you are posting during the middle of second shift on a weekday. The proof is in the pudding, you're a hack, and you are not one of the working people that do the brunt of the work at these institutions. For all your talk of intellectual posturing, it is certainly telling that you have chosen your name to reflect your closest of mental kin, a first grader. It is clear that you are familiar with the mindset.

Either way, custodial work at the university doesn't work like a factory line, and nobody "picks up the slack." They are assigned to clean certain areas, and people assigned to other areas don't come back to sweep up after them. Clearly, it is you who hasn't spent much time with the custodial staff. Or maybe you are! Perhaps you should tell your boss that you are posting on the internet during your shift!

Glad I got you to crack open a dictionary though, there a lot of useful information in there. See you in hell, or socialism.

firstgradersaresmarterthanyou writes:

in response to dialecticsines:

So, you are assuredly not a custodial worker since you are posting during the middle of second shift on a weekday. The proof is in the pudding, you're a hack, and you are not one of the working people that do the brunt of the work at these institutions. For all your talk of intellectual posturing, it is certainly telling that you have chosen your name to reflect your closest of mental kin, a first grader. It is clear that you are familiar with the mindset.

Either way, custodial work at the university doesn't work like a factory line, and nobody "picks up the slack." They are assigned to clean certain areas, and people assigned to other areas don't come back to sweep up after them. Clearly, it is you who hasn't spent much time with the custodial staff. Or maybe you are! Perhaps you should tell your boss that you are posting on the internet during your shift!

Glad I got you to crack open a dictionary though, there a lot of useful information in there. See you in hell, or socialism.

I am sorry. Your position would be?? Union? Journalist wanna be?...which one?? One without much promise.

Your debating skills are lacking, but fun to watch you kick and scream with agony of defeat.

And, yes, I enjoy using the 'firstgrader..' name, because if I had chosen something, let's say, a 2nd grader, your ability to comprehend would be compromised, since your lack of any education would render you helpless.

Custodial work does not have slack..it has undone. So, you are from the mindset its okay to leave things undone. Which is another trait of the lazy and intentional dependent worker.

Once again you have skirted, ignored, feared, and even ran from the facts. Insults are your plan of action-people will be forced to look at them, so they miss the actual truths being spoken.

Until another day.

UTK37914 writes:

“There are no happy workers. The only happy workers on the planet are those that have ownership and control over their workplace.”
If everyone accepted this notion then why would anyone work at all? No employee has complete control of their workplace. What kind of statement is this? There are plenty of people who come to work and do a good job regardless of policy and regulation because having a job gives purpose and doing it well produces quality work and gives pride. Somewhere we all fall on the spectrum of happy, content, apathetic or disgruntled. When the few people who were accustomed to not doing 8 hours of work (under old management) were placed in areas that needed attention and expected to perform, they became disgruntled.
Not all of us saw our change in management as negative. Mr. Irvin came to UT to help transform a somewhat backwards and in many ways antiquated department that had no real cohesive objective-- a reactive response department to say the best. Facilities Services has upgraded its expectations to serve the university and its goals, to become proactive and engaging with other university departments. The reorganization has been a huge endeavor. Students, staff, faculty and visitors are our “customers” who we service, aka customer service. We, as Facilities employees are the most diverse and largest department on campus, and have recently been better funded than under any previous administration. A career path for Building services (custodial) is being approved and the Cleaning Management Institute training program is being offered for up to a 9% pay increase- more competitive than any state raise. Why can’t the union laud this? I would think any concerned union member would praise these changes. If they knew the full story would they?
I can’t comment on individuals, but as university employees, we have grievance procedures that should be confidential and dealt with through this process. How would the union know if some or all of these disgruntled employees had work performance attendance problems? This media coverage is one-sided shoddy journalism. You should have the facts or at least objective viewpoints before you cover a sensationalized story. If the fault lies in the breakdown with this process then investigate it. Reconsider who you defame before you have the full story.
And please, don’t condescend or insult my intelligence as a custodian. We come from different backgrounds, have varying degrees of education and know what it means to put sweat and tears into our jobs-- that most people rarely notice until it’s not done. It means a lot to me to have reliable co-workers who want to do the same hard work I do and not have to pick up their slack because they can’t make it to work on a regular basis, don’t get a vehicle or have a 2-way radio taken away. We are essential to the daily operations of UT. Mediocrity is no good anymore. I challenge my fellow custodians to step up and re-evaluate why and how we serve.

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