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Detroit — About 70 employees of the Detroit Medical Center’s environmental services department rallied Monday to protest the hospital’s plan to outsource housekeeping jobs to a company called Sodexo.

Their protest came moments before a 3-hour hearing Monday in Detroit’s federal court to address the hospital’s plan. The hearing continues with oral arguments Wednesday morning.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of about 300 of those employees, alleges the DMC intends to avoid bargaining with the union by contracting with a new custodial service not approved by the union.

According to the lawsuit, the unions and the DMC have an agreement that “subcontracting may not be undertaken for the sole purpose of depleting bargaining unit positions.”

The two sides have been meeting since Sept. 5.

“We’re trying to get a temporary restraining order to stop (the hospital) from entering the contract,” said Dan Hunt, staff representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, which represents about 1,500 employees along with the Service Employees International Union, including more than 500 in housekeeping departments affected by the planned outsourcing.

Prior to the 11 a.m. hearing before Judge Avern Cohn, employees and family members marched along the sidewalk in front of the court building, wielding signs and repeating phrases, such as “no layoffs, no cuts.”

More than 500 employees may face layoffs if DMC outsources housekeeping positions to Sodexo, union officials said.

“Sodexo has said they would try to protect employees’ wages and benefits,” Hunt said. “But they haven’t given us any guarantees in writing.”

Sodexo is a food services and management company.

The hospital group first filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification with the state Oct. 1. The notice said the company expected layoffs to be effective Dec. 1, but AFSCME filed its lawsuit asking a judge to stop the hospital from instating a new vendor while labor negotiations are underway.

Outsourcing would be detrimental to the department’s quality of work, union officials said.

“We have people who have been working there for 30 years,” Hunt said. “If you lose those employees and bring in outside employees, you lose that expertise.”

In a statement earlier this month, Conrad Mallett, the DMC’s chief administrative officer, said the DMC is not cutting positions but replacing workers.

“There will not be significant employee reductions as reported,” Mallett said.

A lawyer with the hospital group on Monday said the union contract allows for outsourcing.

“It is the DMC’s position that it has the sole right to make the decision to subcontract,” said attorney George Mesritz. “That is what the collective bargaining agreement says.”

HFournier@detroitnews.com

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