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Why Dorm Showers Aren’t Getting Cleaned: An FAQ About Wesleyan and Its Contracted Custodial Staff – Part III of III

Part I | Part II | Part III

Students, custodial staff, and other community members protest at the Saturday, September 21 evening football game.

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This is Part III of a trilogy of posts addressing the problems faced by Wesleyan’s contracted custodial labor. Part I discussed why the University contracts custodial staff, and how they ended up employing Sun ServicesPart II involves the custodial staff’s protests in summer 2013 and how both the University and Sun Services responded – or did not respond. This post, Part III, covers the current state of affairs in late September 2013, focusing on what we – as students, community members, faculty, and staff – can do to help.

If you didn’t yet read parts I and II, that’s fine; this is the most important of the three posts. But a few points to cover what was discussed in the last two:

  1. By contracting custodial labor, the University avoids bad publicity, diffuses blame, avoids being the recipient of pointed fingers, and divides custodial staff from students, faculty, and staff. The University and Sun Services have bounced complaints about working conditions back and forth between them throughout the last year or so, and few changes have been made.
  2. The custodial staff are being stretched too thin. This was an issue under ABM Industries (the custodial contractor before Sun Services) and continues to be an issue today. Because of point #1, it is hard to figure out whether the University or the contractor is to blame for this.
  3. The current staff of 50 feel that their workload is unreasonable. Sun Services says that it is reasonable. The union can’t do anything until it has evidence of unreasonable working conditions. The University avoids all questions and discussions about the issue, batting them to Sun Services.

Part III: Working Conditions Today and What You Can Do To Help

Q: You said in the last post that the custodians have been pressured to signing onto unreasonable positions. What are some examples of the new working schedules to which custodians have been assigned?
A: There are two custodians who are in charge of cleaning all the Foss Hill dorms – this means WestCo 1-4, Nics 5-7, and Hewitt 8-10. They clean these daily. The title of this post series comes about because, when there are only two people cleaning 10 dorms, bathrooms get quite dark indeed.

While there were once several custodians who cleaned the Butts, there are now two custodians in charge of cleaning Butt A, Butt B, and Butt C daily. This means probably upwards of 90 bathrooms, a hundred hallways, dozens of lounges, three kitchens, and three laundry rooms, among others. Keep in mind that, if you’re a junior or senior, the Butts that you remember housed far fewer people than the Butts that these custodians clean now.

One custodian is in charge of cleaning Farm House, Buddhist House, Full/Writing House, Music House, La Casa, Art/Light House, Russian House, and University Relations – every day. 

Why Dorm Showers Aren’t Getting Cleaned: An FAQ About Wesleyan and Its Contracted Custodial Staff – Part II of III

Part I | Part II Part III

The custodial staff protest outside of South College over the summer. Image from Alex Gecan’s June 14, 2013 article in The Middletown Press


This is Part II of a three-part series on the treatment of Wesleyan’s contracted custodial staff. For Part I, click here.

Part I of this post trilogy covered what it means that Wesleyan contracts custodial labor and the transition from ABM Industries, Wesleyan’s contractor for custodial labor until March 31, 2012, to Sun Services, Wesleyan’s current contractor. Part II (this post) discusses the issues that the custodial staff have had since the summer of 2013 and how both the University and Sun Services have responded to custodial complaints. Part III (which will go up tomorrow) covers the situation now, in late September 2013, and what we can do to help the custodial staff.

If you didn’t get the chance to read the first post yet, there are three particularly salient points that I would like to emphasize:

  1. Contracting custodial labor – as opposed to hiring custodians directly as part of Physical Plant – obscures blame and shields the University from bad publicity.
  2. ABM Industries lost its contract with Wesleyan in part because, when ABM added more buildings to its cleaning contract, they did not increase staff. This caused complaints from the cleaning staff, who felt that they were being stretched too thin. This is particularly relevant because the complaints of the custodians then mirrors closely the complaints of the custodians today.
  3. While Sun Services said they would not fire any employees, they tried to lay off 10 in August 2012. A number of factors, including a petition by USLAC signed by large numbers of students, prevented these cuts. However, Sun Services did not agree to hire more employees, but decided to cut staff by attrition – namely, when custodians left the job or retired, they would not be replaced. This is particularly relevant leading into this past summer because it means that, by June 2013, the workforce was already significantly smaller than it had been the year before.

It is in June 2013 that Part II of this series begins.

Part II: Problems, Protests, and Institutional Responses

Q: What happened in June 2013?
A: After trying to lay off 10 workers in August 2012, Sun Services made another attempt to cut both workforce size and costs. This time, following a time-tested formula, they enacted the change right at the beginning of the summer break – after most students leave campus, and before the Wes nostalgia rises around August. On Friday, June 14, about 40 of Sun’s 60 employees protested on the lawn near South College and President Roth’s house during their lunch hour.

Q: Why did the workers protest?
A: Over the course of the year, the custodial staff had been getting more and more stretched. Sun Services had, after all, agreed to decrease the workplace by attrition. This meant that every time custodians retired, they were not replaced. Tensions rose between Sun Services and the custodians.

In early June, new positions were released. It was these positions that sparked the protests.

Why Dorm Showers Aren’t Getting Cleaned: An FAQ About Wesleyan and Its Contracted Custodial Staff – Part I of III

Part I | Part II | Part III

Image from The Middletown Press’s June 28 article


We’re almost four weeks into the semester. If you’re a freshman, you’ve stopped getting lost while trying to find mythical places like “the CFA Hall” and “Home Avenue.” If you’re not a freshman, you’ve likely settled into the familiar rhythm of classes, group meetings, sports practices, rehearsals, meals, pregames, and parties.

But amidst all of this, you may have noticed something different. The United Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) has been having a lot of meetings lately, for one. There have also been protests – including one at the evening football game this past Saturday, September 21. And if you’ve talked to the custodial staff recently, you may find that they are feeling pretty dejected right now.

This is as comprehensive a guide as possible to the situation faced by Wesleyan’s contracted custodial staff right now, compiled from articles by Wesleying, The Argus, and The Middletown Press; discussions with USLAC members; and conversations with custodial staff members themselves. Due to its length, I have broken it up into three parts. Part I is being posted today, Part II tomorrow, and Part III on Sunday. Part I covers the basics about contracted custodial labor and the transition to Sun Services. Part II covers the problems that the custodial staff have had since the summer and how the University and Sun Services have responded to these issues. Part III covers where we are now, and what we can do about the situation.

Part I – The Basics: Contracted Labor and Wesleyan’s Transition to Sun Services

Q: Who are Wesleyan’s contracted custodial staff?
A: They’re the folks in the blue shirts and aprons who clean almost every space on campus. The hallway and common areas of your dorms? They clean them. Your classrooms? Also them. Usdan, Summerfields, Weshop? Yup, they clean those too.

Q: Why do you refer to them as “contracted custodial staff”?
A: In the 1990s, Wesleyan had in-house custodial staff exclusively. This means that every custodian was hired and paid directly by Wesleyan. All of them were Wesleyan employees and were considered part of Physical Plant.

This changed sometime in the 1990s when Wesleyan decided to contract its custodial staff. This little detail is very important. Today, when you see custodians, they usually wear blue aprons or shirts that say “Sun Services.” Excluding about six in-house custodial staff who worked at Wesleyan before it contracted its custodial labor and have worked here ever since, all the custodians you see are officially employees of Sun Services – which, in turn, is hired by Wesleyan. 

Thank the Janitors Today!

From the wonderful people of USLAC (United Student-Labor Action Coalition):

Today, May Day, is an international day of solidarity with workers and immigrants. There are many things you can do to commemorate this day here on Wesleyan’s campus. Yesterday, Wesleyan’s custodians came to work for ABM Industries; today, upon punching in, they now work for Sun Services. This transition involves a change in management that brings with it a whole host of concerns and stresses on the workers. The workers had no voice in the contract selecting process. While there is no immediate threat of layoffs, workers ask that student allies remain vigilant. Today, as we stand in solidarity with workers around the world, recognize the struggles faced by our janitorial staff. Thank the people that clean our bathrooms, hallways, and classrooms. They’re an essential part of the Wesleyan community, and they deserve our appreciation.