On Oct. 21, the NJIT community received a bulletin that stated that the Cullimore Hall mailroom would be outsourced. Though the physical mailroom will still be operational, the operations will be performed by The Millennium Group, a subset of Konica Minolta.
Senior Vice President of Real Estate Development and Capital Operations Andrew Christ said, “We’ve been investigating this for a while to improve the technology that we’re utilizing, and that was something that became glaringly necessary throughout the COVID pandemic period. We need to move to a more of a digital mail solution, which would provide for the ability to have business mail that comes in be scanned and emailed to individuals rather than having to have it physically delivered, which would cut down on some of the person-to-person interactions for the mail services staff as well as the faculty staff on campus.”
This transition will have no impact on student mail, as this is delivered directly to residence halls and placed in resident’s mailboxes. As for outgoing mail, this will still be processed in the mailroom in the Cullimore Hall Basement, but will instead be processed by staff from The Millenium Group.
The reason for this change, according to Christ, is that after a year of investigation NJIT found that the mail services on campus would best be performed by an outside service. “We need to modernize our processing equipment for the outgoing mail,” Christ said. “In addition, we will be investing in digital sensors and scanning technology that will allow people to understand when their packages arrive on campus. They will get an email to let them know that the package arrived in the mail room. They will get another email to let them know that the package arrived at their departmental offices. So if something is needed quickly, they can certainly go and retrieve it as soon as they get that notification. These are some of the things that we’re able to get through this service provider that we don’t have to invest in ourselves.”
Christ pointed out that NJIT’s Copy Center was outsourced to Konica Minolta for similar reasons years ago. Before that, in the 1990’s, NJIT’s Dining Services were outsourced to Gourmet Dining Services. As a result, food quality went up and food services went from being a financial drain on NJIT to a source of income.
“We’re always looking to try and improve our business processes,” Christ said, “trying to make things more efficient, utilize technology, which will then help us streamline the operation. We are trying to focus our staffing on our core business, which for us is delivery of education. It’s not necessarily food service, which has already been outsourced. It’s not necessarily mail services. It’s not necessarily the copy center. Those are all businesses that are done more efficiently by others.”
The Millenium Group, according to Christ, processes mail for over 350 locations throughout the country, including the Prudential Building. This is also a process that is common among other universities.
Concerns were raised at the Institute’s Faculty Meeting that same day, with concerns being voiced regarding the release of several NJIT employees—especially during a pandemic with employment and economic concerns—and the issue with third-party employees opening people’s mail to scan it.
NJIT President Joel Bloom responded to some of these concerns, saying that “there was a long-term analysis done, and we will save as we have done in the other cases significant money for the university. While our mail has converted very much so to email and other online networks, the need for the posting of mail is not what it once was. We realize that it’s not core to the mission of this institution. That’s what we’ve always attempted to outsource…. It was planned, it was necessary, it helped us avoid some expenses that wouldn’t have been wise to make to upgrade the existing mailroom, and we know in the long term it will save the university significant amounts of money.”
The savings was later revealed to be $1 million over the course of three years, including savings from staffing and benefits as well as the equipment improvement investments that would not have to be made.
As for concerns regarding the announcement being made during the pandemic, Bloom said, “I couldn’t agree more with you about the timing of layoffs, but we’ve gotten through this crisis—this terrible pandemic—and you can read the headlines…. Looking at all of the neighboring universities and seeing hundreds of people laid off…. this [mailroom] was an operation we could no longer afford nor would work effectively. Regardless of how large the savings are we have to make those decisions. I will not debate because I, again, happen to agree with you. We should and we could and we will do a better job in transparency and keeping people informed. I can’t defend that…. I would not do it again—it won’t be done again the way this one was done, I’ll tell you that now. But we will have to continue to look at this issue of cost savings—what are the core people that we need to operate this university not well, but better than well. So unfortunately, technology has displaced jobs here at NJIT. But it’s going to continue. We will keep you informed, and this will be handled better going forward.”
According to Christ, the mailroom clerical staff were given a two-weeks notice per the AFSCME union contract. The manager was given 30 days notice as per the PSA union contract.
“We were happy that a couple of employees, who were long-tenured employees here at NJIT, did take the opportunity to retire,” Christ said. “So they have their pension now and they officially retired from public service. Others have the ability to consider bumping within their contract, and look at other positions within the university. And some of that is still being entertained at this point. So, you know, we try to minimize the impact on the employees directly, as best we can. But in order to move forward and become a more technologically-paced service provider, unfortunately, we did not have a choice.”
An option was also made available for mailroom employees to begin working with The Millenium Group, though Christ said that “it may not have been the same salary or rate.”
As for the expectations of privacy in the mail delivered to faculty, Christ said, “considering that we are a public entity, so any document that comes in or out of NJIT is public record, there really can be no thought that it will remain private unless there are certain things like personnel issues, things of that nature, that have some semblance of privacy. But for the most part, anything that’s addressed to NJIT is public record and can be OPRA—open Public Records Act requested—you can ask for correspondence from an individual or from an office and those typically have to be complied with. So, as far as privacy is concerned, there should be really no expectation of that, unless it’s certain categories like contract, personnel issues, real estate matters. There are certain things that remain behind the privacy curtain.”
Since NJIT is a public institution, the mailroom is supposed to be used by faculty and staff only for business-related matters, thus the laws and expectations behind the mail here are different from personal mail delivered to the dorms or to one’s home.
NJIT employees will also have the option to request that mail from certain senders not be scanned, and in theory could create a standing order to not have any mail scanned. Mail that is scanned is also saved, so after it is emailed to an employee the physical copy can be requested.
However, Christ said that, “We’re hopeful though once we educate the community, that they’ll understand what’s happening, where it’s happening. The fact that these individuals are insured, bonded, so that they will accept this new process which we think will greatly improve reliability as well as expediency of delivery.”
“I think as you mentioned earlier, it’s never an easy thing to do,” Christ acknowledged. “It’s never a good time to do it. But we think that it’s important to continue to continuously improve our business processes, and this was one of those opportunities that are important to execute on behalf of the university. Increasing the technology used, increasing the productivity of many people, and then of course, the savings to the university which goes directly to the ability to hire additional faculty, which is part of our purpose.”