Tag Archives: custodial staff

Unofficial Orientation Series ’14: Rage Update

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(Image: Catherine Avalone, The Middletown Press)

You’ve now arrived on campus, and we hope that you find your time here enriching and transformative. In that hope, we feel that it would be ill-advised to allow you to not have at least a foundational understanding of the things that have forced us as a community into dialogue, disagreement, and action.

This is not to scare you or to give you a negative impression of the University. However, we are certain that most if not all of you were told about the “passion” that Wesleyan students have and the issues that we care about on campus are at the forefront of those passions. While there is certainly no requirement to take an activist stance on any of these issues and it is in fact easy to sink beneath the radar on these issues and all the others not covered here, we would plead with you to be engaged in the community that you are now a part of.

Read this, ask questions, and reach out to students and faculty that have been here before you. We hope that as you begin your time here, you fully invest yourself as a community member committed to making Wesleyan as good as it can be for you and for those after you. Caring about Wesleyan does not foreclose critique on Wesleyan and as you read this, and other things like it, we hope you understand that too.

This Is Why Not, Part 2: A Guest Post from Cesar Chavez ’15 about Poverty at Wesleyan

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NOTE FROM BZODAbout a month and a half ago, we posted a piece by Cesar Chavez ’15 in which he translated a letter from the custodial staff to President Roth in which custodial staff decried their unreasonable working conditions. That letter was part 1 of 2. This letter, written by Cesar, focuses on the invisibility of poverty at Wesleyan. With that, Cesar’s post:

My name is Cesar Chavez, poor Hispanic male, age 19. I am writing this because as a poor student I can no longer stand and see how I, along with other students, am brought into a cycle of perpetual poverty by this university. It is unfair that this university has the audacity to state that there is no money for poor students and that it forces us to take loans in order to obtain a degree that in the future will become a worthless piece of paper. Likewise, I  want to break the silence around the issue of poverty. By not talking about the issue, we allow this injustice to continue. I also would like to direct this critique to poor students currently at Wesleyan. If you are reading this, I encourage you to speak up. I know the frustration and anger that you are all probably experiencing. Do not keep it inside yourselves. Make your voices heard.

Our custodians are not the only ones who have been alienated, marginalized, and oppressed at Wesleyan. Poor student have suffered these ailments as well. I, along with many other students, am a victim of indentured servitude that comes in the form of student debt. I am a poor student going to this “elite” institution so that I can pursue my academic goals and be a member of a productive society. But in my opinion, many people aren’t going to college to learn anymore; people attend college so they can land a decent job. Likewise, we live in a time when a bachelor’s degree won’t get you too far. Because we live in a global capitalist economy dominated by a global plutocracy, students in the United States have to compete even harder for jobs with students from other countries like India and China. In order to stay competitive, one needs to obtain a Masters or PhD. As a result the college and school cultures have changed in recent years to accommodate the growing corporatization. More emphasis is placed on standardized tests, corporate careers, competition, and raising tuition. Now, few people seem to have desire to learn anymore. They simply want to walk in, pass tests, get the career networks they need, walk out and land a decent job. All of this has shown me that higher education is dying and makes me question, “Why am I even bothering with college?”

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

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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

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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. 

This Is Why Not, Part 1: A Guest Post by Cesar Chavez ’15 about the Custodial Staff’s Situation

Image from The Middletown Press article on June 14.

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NOTE FROM BZODWe got an email from Cesar Chavez ’15 a week or so ago asking us to post this letter that he translated for the custodial staff and also published as a Wespeak in The Argus. Those of you who weren’t on campus this summer or who weren’t reading Wesleying should make sure to check out this post, which is a comprehensive summary and description of what happened; these two [1] [2] Middletown Press articles; and this recent Argus article (thanks anonymous commenter!). In short though: Sun Services, Wesleyan’s contractor for custodial services, laid off 13 of their 60 workers at the beginning of the summer. This led to increased workloads for the already-overworked custodial staff, many of which are dangerous and impossible to complete. Wesleyan’s custodial staff protested through much of June and part of July, but stopped protesting due in part to pressure by Sun Services. The University, meanwhile, has deflected any questions about working conditions by emphasizing that the custodians are hired by Sun Services, and that Wesleyan merely hires Sun Services and has no direct and official contact with individual custodians. Of course, the University has considerable contractual leverage over Sun Services. It could use this leverage to push for humane working conditions, but has not yet done so. With that background, Cesar’s post:

I am writing this because I am angry, I am alienated, and I want people to wake up and look around them. I am writing this not as Cesar A. Chavez, Wesleyan University, Class of 2015. I am writing this as Cesar A. Chavez, poor Hispanic male, age 19. I am writing this because we can no longer ignore the economic differences that are present on our campus. I am writing this because I am not ashamed to say that I am poor and I want to break the silence around the issue of poverty.

This summer I received a disturbing email from a custodian. She notified me that Sun Services, the company that contracts their labor (which, in turn, is contracted by Wesleyan) was adding unreasonable workloads to the custodians’ schedules, and that their manager and supervisors were harassing them. The following is a letter directed to President Michael Roth that she asked me to translate.