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'We were just blindsided': OU landscapers speak out after Nov. 1 layoffs

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Landscapers with plants

Landscapers work on the South Oval on March 28.

Editor’s note: The two landscapers quoted in this story spoke to The Daily on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

OU landscaping employees were “blindsided” by layoffs from the OU administration last week, raising questions about the future of campus beautification.

Twenty-five people in the landscaping department were laid off Nov. 1 as part of OU President James Gallogly’s reduction in workforce, according to a statement from OU Public Affairs. Gallogly laid off approximately 50 employees during this time, including workers from three research offices and the One University store.

Two OU landscapers, one current and one former, said the department had no idea the layoffs were coming.

“It was just unexpected,” said a landscaper who lost his job as part of the layoffs. “Three folks came into the shop and called us into the back room and sat us down and basically said, ‘Today is your last day of work’ ... Like I said, we were just blindsided.”

The former landscaper said he and the other terminated workers will be paid until Dec. 31, but he said he worries about feeding his four kids in the current job market after his severance pay ends.

“We’re all parents,” the former worker said. “We all have families. We live here in Norman. We have bills to pay and things like that, and they (could) have ... gave us some kind of notice this would happen. We could have started looking for other jobs or something.”

A current landscaper, who said he believes his 20 years of service to OU helped him keep his job, told The Daily that things around the landscaping department weren’t going well, but that it was too early to calculate the long-term consequences. He said the situation was worrisome, especially because the workers were caught off-guard with the news.

“Nobody knew that they were getting laid off,” the landscaper said. “It’s just, they showed up to work and had to go back home ... It’s terrible when people lose their job, especially some of them who needed them.”

In 2015, College Values Online ranked OU as the 10th most impressive historic college campus in the nation, an honor heavily based on green space and flora, according to an OU press release. Entertainment and travel website Thrillist also put OU in the top 25 most beautiful campuses nationwide in 2014.

The former landscaper said he believes Gallogly running OU “like a corporation” will have negative consequences, such as a decline in the university’s noted beauty.

“With landscape, OU was one of the top 10 universities in the country, considered a beautiful campus,” the former employee said. “And (Gallogly is) firing all of the landscapers. They are cutting people without realizing the implications they’ll have later on.”

The laid-off worker also said he was told OU had plans to privatize its landscaping by bringing in private contractors to do the work of those laid off — an approach he said he thinks will lower the quality of service at the university.

“If somebody needs a tree branch cut because it’s falling down, they’ll not be able to pick up the phone and call somebody and say, ‘Hey take care of this,’” the former landscaper said. “They’ll have to put in a request and wait a week until the contractor comes and does it. The university is paying itself for its own services, and they are not going to get a cheaper rate from a private contractor.”

OU Public Affairs did not respond to questions about landscaping privatization, but said the landscaping layoffs were necessary because “new construction on campus is slowing and landscaping needs are changing.”

“We are keeping the number of skilled personnel on staff necessary to continue keeping our campus beautiful,” said Kathleen Kesler, Public Affairs spokesperson, in the statement.

The former landscaper said people with his job are often “invisible” employees who go unrecognized as they try to make campus look nice.

“I’m just pretty upset,” the former landscaper said. “I was a dedicated employee of the university and had an excellent work record. On reviews I got ‘excellent,’ and this happens. And you get cut.”

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