Tech custodians reassigned to third shift

Rainy days on campus are typically met by rain boot-clad, umbrella-wielding students. Days like that also result in slick floors and a custodian tasked to mop the buildings’ entryways.This is no longer the case for several buildings on campus. On Oct. 29, Facilities and Business Services announced the reassignment of custodians to third shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.).

According to Mark Greenwood, Custodial and Grounds Services director for Facilities, the shift change was to allow students the benefit of entering a clean building in the morning.

“We’re doing it so that we can clean the buildings more quickly and more efficiently,” Greenwood said. “Many classrooms and labs are almost impossible to clean on first and second shift due to high usage, so moving to third will allow us a better opportunity to get to those.”

Residence halls, Tech Village, the RUC and Derryberry Hall are some of the areas not affected by this change and will retain custodians throughout the day to accommodate the constant upkeep required of the buildings’ high-traffic nature. However, custodians assigned to academic buildings were told to make the change to third shift.

“We have put all academic buildings on third shift, meaning buildings where classes and labs are the vast majority of each building’s function,” Greenwood said. “Due to the nature of their usage, some-but not all-athletic buildings remain on first shift.”

Some faculty and staff members think that custodians affected by the shift change may not have been properly represented in the decision-making process. Additionally, some think the custodians were given too short a notice and are not properly compensated to make the shift change. Greenwood confirmed that third shift custodians received a 50 cent raise to their hourly pay rate.

“There was no consideration whatsoever,” said a departmental secretary who wished to remain anonymous. “[Custodians] are the people who don’t have a voice. Where’s the Tech community spirit that we’re advertised for having?”

Members of the Faculty Senate expressed that very concern.

“We take great pride in a campus tradition that encourages administrators, staff and faculty to voice concerns so that we may develop policies that promote the common well being,” Faculty Senate members said in a letter to President Bob Bell. “For these reasons, the decision to alter the working hours of our custodial staff came as a shock. Why were faculty [members], who routinely interact with the custodians, not consulted? Why were many high-ranking administrators left uninformed?”

Greenwood, however, said the opposite.

“[The change] was announced by upper management about two weeks prior to the official start date,” Greenwood said. “However, [custodians] were made aware that the change was being orchestrated some months in advance. As I recall, we first mentioned it to the supervisors in June, and I started receiving inquiries from custodians and other campus personnel shortly thereafter.”

Student reactions

Although the shift change was put into effect to benefit the students, some agree with the concerns raised by the Faculty Senate.

“It was basically a ‘Guess what, you’re going to third [shift], no questions, no negotiations, get ready’ deal,” Brittany Godsey, senior sociology-criminal justice major, said. “I have heard that it was supposedly for the students’ benefit, so we could walk into a clean building every morning.

“To be honest, I’ve been here for five years and couldn’t care less about how spotless the floors and windows are. The bathrooms are another story. In Henderson, when the custodians were working normal day shift, those bathrooms were spotless. Now, at mid-afternoon they look like a toilet paper tornado swept through them.”

However, senior professional communications major Ruthe Wood sees the shift change from another angle.

“I am not exactly sure why the administration has chosen to do this. I have heard this is one of two phases: move them to third shift in hopes that most of the workers would quit, so that in the summer the school could outsource the custodian workers. I personally do not see any positive coming from this change-at least not in the student or custodian perspective.”

More concerns

The new policy requires faculty and staff to contact Facilities and Business Services if something needs to be cleaned up during the day.

“What if someone vomits during class or spills something in the hall?” the departmental secretary asked. “It’s going to sit there until Facilities sends someone over. What about when it rains or snows, and a student slips and breaks a bone? It could mean a lawsuit for the University.”

“The decision to place one or two custodians, many of them in their 50s or 60s, in empty buildings while campus is virtually deserted exposes them to security risks,” Faculty Senate members pointed out.

Additionally, custodians hired by Tech are required to have background checks. However, custodial workers for temporary hire are not. Kelly Services, the temp agency Tech uses to hire most of its temporary custodial workers, opts to screen applicants during the interview process rather than requiring applicants to go through a formal background check.

Angela Puckett, a representative for Kelly Services, confirmed that potential temporary employees are asked to divulge criminal history over a seven-year span. If there is mention of a felony or similar history, the applicant does not advance past the interview stage.

“A positive to [the custodian shift change] is that the University saves money,” English professor Bill McRae said. “Meanwhile, trashcans are overflowing and classrooms and bathrooms become messes throughout the day. I don’t want to work in an environment like that. We have a job to do, and it’s not just about saving money.”

English instructor Jennifer Golz said, “The only positive is that it brings us together,” referring to the relationship between Tech faculty and custodians. “And we want them back.”

“Tech tried the same thing thirty years ago,” an anonymous Tech employee said, referring to the utilization of a third shift cleaning schedule. She went on to explain that when faculty and staff continually contacted Facilities to clean things up, the policy was changed to accommodate one custodian during the day and another for third shift. Eventually, all custodians went back to working days.

Custodians who were contacted for interviews declined due to job security concerns.

“[The custodians] can’t quit,” the departmental secretary said. “For some, that is their only source of income. Some had to quit second jobs in order to accommodate moving to third shift.”

History professor Katherine Osburn said, “Some of the custodians have worked for Tech for about a decade. They should have input, and they didn’t. I hope the administration reverses this.

“President Bell is a fair man,” Osburn continued, “and he will hear the voices of his faculty.”

The Tech chapter of the American Association of University Professors will sponsor Karly Safar of United Campus Workers to speak about the current custodial shift change at Poets on the Square from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. For more information, contact Safar at 615-519-0157 or Josie McQuail, Tech chapter AAUP president, at jmcquail@tntech.edu.