Next time you sign a hefty check to an outside janitorial or maintenance service, think about addressing it to your own employees.

When Harry Brown, president of Erie Bolt Corp., in Erie, Pa., cut his janitorial staff to reduce payroll, he thought of contracting the work out. His employees had a better idea -- they wanted to bid on the jobs themselves. Several employees said they would like the added income and would be willing to do the work after hours and on weekends. In fact, they would undercut the outside contractors' prices. Brown decided to give them a shot.

Now, the president of the union does Erie Bolt's snow-plowing, and three employees and one company retiree come in regularly to clean the shop and maintain the equipment. They also paint and do minor repairs.

"We're paying less, and there is no doubt that we're getting better service," Brown said. "The employees know the place better, and if they don't do a good job, they know the other employees will get on their case."