Custodians at the University are under pressure to complete
their work with shortened, early-morning hours, causing exhaustion
and sleep-deprivation, some custodial staff members said.
Budget cuts prompted Plant Building Services to move up to 80
percent of its shifts to the early morning, said Nathan Norman,
Plant Building Services director.
The moves are part of the University’s budget plan that it
approved in July.
The change in shifts has saved Building Services as much as
$350,000, Norman said.
“One of the biggest complaints is that the employees are
being overworked and understaffed,” said Mike Edwards,
president of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal
Employees Local 1583, the union that represents the custodial staff
at the University.
Edwards said although most shifts now last from 4 a.m. to 12:30
p.m., custodians are expected to get all of their work done in the
four hours before classes begin at 8 a.m.
“That leaves a lot of work (in that short period of
time),” he said.
Norman said there is still enough time to finish cleaning.
“We don’t try to get all of our work done before
(students) come in, in the morning,” he said. “We have
this very well figured out.”
Prior to budget changes, most shifts for the 367-member
custodial staff were from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., or from 11 p.m. to
6:30 a.m., Norman said.
Although Building Services saves money, some custodians say they
are suffering from the cuts. One is Jeremy Phillips, a former
custodian at Building Services, whose custodial staff works at
campus buildings for the Medical School, the College of Engineering
and Literature, Science & the Arts, as well as other Central
Campus academic buildings. “When they started talking about
changing the shift to 4, I jumped ship for another
Phillips worked for about seven years at Building Services, and
now works at West Quad Residence Hall — which, like other
residence halls, has not faced changing shifts due to budget
“There’s just no way of doing this job as it should
be done,” said a custodian who wished to remain anonymous.
She has been working for Building Services for 11 years.
“Staff needs their offices done before 8, but classrooms
have to be done before 8,” she added. “And then
you’re working around restrooms while there are classes and
people needing the public facilities.”
“The building always looks dirty,” because there is
not enough time to properly clean the floors, she added.
She also said she and her colleagues are having difficulty
coping with the changes. “If you’re a family person,
you can’t work this shift without sleep. … You
sometimes don’t even see your spouse.”
She also said sleep deprivation causes health problems for the
“They’ve got no end of problems that they’re
running into,” Phillips said of his former co-workers. He
said they easily fall asleep on their breaks due to exhaustion, and
they are no longer able to see their children off to school in the
But Norman said he has noticed more positive than negative
changes as a result of the rescheduling. “Seldom have I known
about anyone quitting their job as a result of the change,”
he said. “Overall, this has worked very well for us. …
We accomplished our budgetary goals and we have created some
efficiencies within our department that further saves jobs and
Norman also said because of the change in shifts, Building
Services is able to offer University courses to its custodial staff
during the day. Norman said computer courses are especially
valuable to custodians as they can now access payroll and banking
services by computer.
Phillips said he is most upset by most custodians’ loss of
a shift premium of fifty cents for working the night shift, which
earns staff overtime pay. Shift premiums rose by 20 cents the last
time a contract was renegotiated with the custodians, in 2001.
But Phillips said he is suspicious that Building Services was
expecting to face more budget cuts, and that they raised the
premium knowing that night shifts would soon be cut.
The anonymous source said she also expected the night shifts to
be cut. Budget cuts “saved them shift premium,” she
said. Norman said that this assessment was untrue. “At the
time of the contract we had no idea what was going to be
cut,” he added.