Claiming that the company managing Camden County College’s facilities maintenance and custodial care has failed to do its job, representatives from the faculty and staff union asked the county freeholders Thursday to rehire employees who were laid off.
“The place is filthy, there are so many bad things that are going to happen,” said Dawn Gaff Merlino, who was laid off from her custodial job. The first speaker during the public-comment session of the board’s regular meeting, Merlino asked the freeholders for an explanation of what the union said were layoffs that came without warning.
“I would just like to have somebody at this board look me in the face and tell me who did this to me, my people, and the college,” she said.
Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. looked directly at her and told her the decision was made not by the Freeholder Board but by the college’s board of trustees.
“That is a question for the board at the college,” Cappelli said. “We do not make that decision.”
The dozens of union members, sitting in the crowd in red shirts, weren’t having it. With background calls of “Liar!” and “Damn lies!,” Merlino was followed by other members who argued for the return of the college’s maintenance and custodial employees.
They supported their requests with allegations they have been making regarding the company that was contracted to replace them: thefts, vandalism, unnecessary overtime, a failure to do the job properly.
The company, Hamilton, N.J.-based Meridian Property Services, has denied the allegations. The company manager who oversees the Camden County College contract said Thursday that it had received few complaints.
In June, the college laid off 47 employees in boiler maintenance, custodial, and groundskeeping jobs, eliminating the positions and hiring Meridian in what was described as a cost-saving move. The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has been protesting since. The union represents the college’s faculty, administrative staff, and support staff.
In a letter dated Sept. 5, the union asked Cappelli for an independent, third-party forensic audit of “all financial and operational aspects of the privatization effort at Camden County College.” The union said it would pay half the costs if the county agreed to cover the other half.
During the response section of the meeting, Cappelli did not address the speakers’ complaints; Ian K. Leonard, the freeholder who is liaison to the college, did not comment publicly on the allegations.
After the meeting, Cappelli said he had not received the letter. Other freeholders said they had also not received the letter and had not heard of a request for an audit.
NJEA’s letter made allegations about thefts, vandalism, and maintenance failures since Meridian took over, but representatives said Thursday they want the third-party audit to investigate rather than going back and forth with the college over specific allegations. Cappelli said after the meeting that an audit would not be the freeholders’ to authorize, as the issue falls in the purview of the college trustees.
Gloucester Township police could not immediately say Thursday whether they had received reports of theft or vandalism.
Raymond Yannuzzi, president of Camden County College, said in an interview after the meeting that he had not seen a dip in the state of the college’s facilities. “I don’t see that myself, and no one has said that to me,” he said.
As for the privatization of maintenance services, he said, “I think the transition . . . has been smooth.”
Vince Altimari, the Meridian project manager who oversees the Camden County College site, said he has not received any major complaints in line with the union’s allegations.
“I have a weekly meeting there, and we have had very little complaint – minor issues, where maybe a trash can got missed or something along those lines,” Altimari said Thursday. “Other than that, we haven’t really got any complaints. . . . All the equipment is maintained properly.”
If the county will not agree to an outside audit, union representatives said, they would like to see the contract terminated and the laid-off employees rehired.