Aug 022005
Authors: Ingmar Bueb

I am a substitute teacher and took on a summer job as a janitor at CSU. Even though I have worked at other physically demanding, low-paying jobs in my life, including moving man, sanitation worker, and groundskeeper, it was an eye-opening experience for me.

I was in charge of two buildings, NESB and Animal Science. Once a week I had to vaccuum 165 offices, empty 350 trash cans, which equal an average of 15 trash bags and four large garbage cans loaded with paper. I also had to sort the paper for recycling as well as one to two containers of glass, plastic and aluminum. Each paper recycling bin can weigh up to 120 pounds. Twice a week I had to sweep and mop six staircases. On a daily basis, I unlocked eleven entries, cleaned the glass doors, vaccuumed six entries, wipe 12 drinking fountains and empty 20 cans of regular trash. There are also 14 bathrooms to clean daily, four of which are large. Other tasks include emptying 10 ashtrays, cleaning outer entranceways and picking up trash near the building, elevators, floors, etc. It's actually a do-able amount of work, and if you don't try to do it too throroughly, you can even get done early. However, you end up walking several miles each day on hard floors and you have to bend alot. You make a thousand little turns and bends that are hard on the joints. I don't even want to think about the hazards of the cleaning fluids that we use, and that often get on your skin, and that you inevitably breathe in as you spray them. The work itself is lonely and nasty and your body will never get used to getting up at 4 AM and starting work at 5 AM.

Fifteen years ago, CSU had twice as many janitors, each of whom had to clean fewer buildings. The workload per person has tripled since then. All of my colleagues told me of problems with their knees, legs, hips, of arthritis and of operations of all kinds. The pay is lousy ( $18,000 per year ( and after taxes, social security and medicare taken out, it comes to $15,000. I don't know how families can live on that; it's no really wonder that nearly all of my male colleagues were singles. The raise this year was 3.5%, but at the same time the health care benefits were cut by 5 to 10%. After inflation, this is a 0% raise. CSU saves more and more on their lowest level workers and dumps more and more work on them. If they get sick, they have to pay up to 30% of their medical expenses, and more likely than not, CSU will deny that the illness or condition is work-related.

Two people I met have worked there for 26 years and are still Janitorial I, the lowest level of employment. Not many people in the labs and offices that you clean bother to greet you or show their appreciation for the necessary and unpleasant work that you do. Often they completely ignore you, even as you are vaccuuming under their desks, or while you are washing the floor that they walk over with their dirty shoes. They ignore the "No Entry" sign, pee in the pissoir while you're still cleaning. It's like beening invisible. Some sadists enjoy throwing a book or paper towels into the pissoirs, and peeing on it. Guess who gets to pull it out with their hands? Students write graffiti in the bathrooms ( guess who has to clean it off daily? Others throw open, half-full bottles into trash cans, and the liquids land on the janitor's clothes when they take out the garbage. The unfriendliest bunch on campus are the plumbers, who evidently feel that they are better people than janitors, and who give comments like, "Is that the fastest you can walk?" or "Didn't you just clean that spot two days ago? What, are you goofing off?"

My bosses were real jerks. If someone complains about you, they don't defend you. I was mobbed on the job: three days in a row, someone stuffed paper towels in a pissoir and peed on them; it stank like Hell ( what a bastard! I complained to my boss, who never did anything about it, not even a phone call. I never heard a word of praise, only criticism, from them for their crew. Instead they made fun of them, picking on them and making cynical jokes. All they do is spread fear, put on pressure, and delegate more work. The workers are afraid to say anything and swallow everything. Needless to say, they are not unionized. Because of racism, the crew is divided and rats on each other. The racism takes other forms, without being out in the open. For example, the Americans don't want to hear Spanish during the break, and move out of the room. Without the solidarity and trust between the workers, the bosses can do whatever they want, and the atmosphere is poisoned because of it. The people who were nicest to me were the Hispanic colleagues, who were more genuinely friendly.

I am very glad I quit this job and I really feel sorry for the people who have to do this job life-long. So please readers, next time that you pass by a janitor at your office, or school, or whereever, think of the hard, essential work that they do, and show them your appreciation with a hello or a thank you.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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