Students, janitors raise concerns about custodial work load, campus cleanliness in wake of janitorial restructuring

Janitors, TLC members, and members of the Tufts community marched in front of Ballou on Wednesday, April 8 to protest proposed cuts to the janitorial staff. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

Members of Tufts’ janitorial staff and Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) have reported that janitors are being overworked and that the cleanliness of campus buildings has declined as a result of the university’s custodial reorganization and janitorial layoffs, which occurred between June and August.

According to Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler, the reorganization implemented by Tufts and the university’s custodial contractor, DTZ —originally estimated to result in 35 layoffs — ultimately displaced 18 custodians, seven of whom are no longer working with DTZ, from their former positions.

“The reorganization has been completed, and we were able to maintain our priority of supporting DTZ in efforts to minimize job loss, offer alternative positions to the small number of people laid off and treat each person with respect,” she said.

According to TLC member Nicole Joseph, a total of eight — not seven — janitors were laid off as a result of the reorganization, but the number was unclear due to worker movement since the initial layoffs.

Thurler said in a Nov. 16 email to the Daily that, on the Medford/Somerville campus, one custodian “proactively resigned,” four transferred to different DTZ locations and four declined open DTZ position offers, which the university took to be acts of resignation. Among the custodians who declined other DTZ positions, two people were offered three other positions within DTZ and declined all three. Seven other custodians “accepted ‘open’ positions on the Medford/Somerville campus,” Thurler said.

One custodian from the Boston campus “accepted a voluntary layoff” and one janitor from the Grafton campus voluntarily resigned, according to Thurler. In addition, assignments for several temporary workers ended after the reorganization, she said.

According to a June 11 Facebook post by TLC, the open positions that janitors were offered in other DTZ locations were not comparable to the positions that they had at Tufts.

“Most are only temporary jobs, are far from janitors’ homes and inaccessible by public transportation, are part-time and do not include benefits, and would constitute a significant decrease in pay,” the post read.

Senior Sofia Adams, a member of TLC, added that these open jobs were located in far away locations, such as near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. According to Adams, several of the DTZ employees who were rehired after layoffs lost their seniority and were not given priority to reclaim the shifts they had previously worked.

Joseph, a sophomore, explained that in negotiations among representatives from the administration, DTZ and TLC, students involved in TLC were assured that workers who were laid off from Tufts would be the first to receive opportunities to fill open positions at other DTZ sites. TLC, however, was skeptical, suspecting that other openings would not come with benefits comparable to the ones that janitors receive at Tufts, Joseph said.

According to TLC member Anna Gaebler, many workers who were not laid off left their jobs because the shift reorganization created scheduling conflicts with other jobs or family responsibilities.

“Several people left their job because of the reorganization,” Gaebler, a senior, said. “So they were basically forced to leave their jobs.”

Former Tufts janitor Lorena Arita, who was laid off at the beginning of the summer, said that losing her job has been difficult for her and her family economically and psychologically.

“Personally, as a mother, I feel very frustrated because my children are in school, and because of the sudden stop of work, we really have experienced trauma,” Arita said in Spanish. “We are not free of economic problems, and I need work.”

Gaebler said that these cuts have increased the individual workloads of the remaining janitors and has decreased the overall quality of cleaning around campus.

Adelaida Colon, a custodial worker at Tufts for 18 years, explained that she and her colleagues feel overworked and overwhelmed as a result of the reorganization.

“My experience in the past was much better than it is now,” she said in Spanish. “I am not thinking only of myself, but also of my colleagues who are overloaded with work and schedule changes.”

Colon said she worked for the past 17 years in Blakeley Hall — the dormitory for students attending the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy — where she and a partner cleaned the building together.

“I did the bathrooms, the kitchen and the common areas [of Blakeley], but I had a partner,” she said. “My partner did the staircases and took out the trash, and together we did this work. But we were two people. Now there is one person in that building who has to do everything.”

Colon, who now works in the Health Service building and another downhill building, said that several members of the janitorial staff have had to quit their other jobs as a result of the reorganization and are feeling economic pressures at home.

Gaebler said that since the cuts, some janitors have had to find extra time — by skipping lunch breaks, for example — to keep up with the amount of work they are now assigned.

“Some workers have been…returning later after they’ve finished their shift or during their lunch break to finish the cleaning, which is completely unacceptable,” she said.

Custodial worker Maria Coreas, who works in four different buildings, said that while she has much more work, she does not feel pressured to finish everything in one day.

“Yes, I have an excess of work,” she said in Spanish. “But my supervisor does not force me to do things that I cannot do. For example, if I don’t finish something, at least until now, he hasn’t punished me for what I haven’t done. I can say that I am doing well because I am not feeling pressure … I eat my lunch and I work during my hours of work.”

Arita believes DTZ is giving custodians more work than they can handle as a tactic to encourage workers to resign.

“The company is giving my colleagues work in four buildings,” she said. “This suggests to me that DTZ is looking for strategies to ensure that people leave because by giving my colleagues more work, they are going to feel [doubly] stressed and will not be able to complete the work that they have been assigned. DTZ is automatically going to start giving ‘warnings’ and by the third warning they will fire the person.”

Arita explained that when she was at Tufts, she would clean Bendetson Hall and West Hall in 25 hours. Now, her colleagues have to clean four buildings in the same amount of time. Within buildings, janitors also have more work; custodians who were previously only responsible for cleaning a building’s bathrooms now having to do the added responsibilities of vacuuming, taking out trash and cleaning the stairs, she said.

“People who clean offices only have 15 minutes to do so,” Arita said. “The administration doesn’t have experience cleaning, so it is easy for them to say, ‘Do one office in 15 minutes and then another in 15 minutes.'”

Thurler said that members of Tufts’ custodial staff are responsible for areas of fewer square feet than custodians at other universities.

“While we recognize that there has been a period of adjustment, the area that each Tufts custodian cleans is significantly less than industry standards for similar institutions,” she told the Daily in an email. “Comparisons based on gross square feet per custodian show Tufts below other institutions.”

According to Thurler, the university used Sightlines, a facility assets advisor, to determine industry benchmarks for custodial efficiency in terms of the number of gross square feet (GSF) cleaned by each full-time custodian. Based on data from Sightlines, the average custodial efficiency of 10 of Tufts’ peer institutions, including schools such as Boston University, Brown University and Northeastern University, was 32, 749 GSF per custodian, Thurler said. In comparison, Tufts custodians cleaned an average of 27,501 GSF — about 19 percent less than the average.

Using the Sightlines data, DTZ and Tufts made a plan to improve efficiency on all three university campuses, finding that Tufts had 700 hours of excess cleaning time, amounting to around $900,000 a year, according to Thurler.

“This meant that our work force has been larger than it should be to clean the university, indicating significant opportunities for savings,” she said.

Gaebler, on the other hand, said students and staff members have experienced a difference in the quality of the cleaning on campus since the reorganization.

“I’ve heard backlash from professors,” Gaebler said. “Everything is so dirty and the trash is overflowing in the bathrooms. I work in Eaton [Hall] and it’s really gross. The garbage is overflowing there, too.”

Thurler explained that part of the reorganization included an adjustment to the amount of cleaning certain areas on campus receive. She said that “high use areas,” which include residence and dining halls, bathrooms, libraries and athletic facilities, are cleaned more frequently, while administrative buildings have had their cleaning services reduced.

“We deliberately decreased services in individual administrative offices, so that staff could focus efforts on high use areas,” she said.

Gaebler added that, since the reorganization, administrators have been expected to help maintain cleanliness by taking out their own trash.

Thurler also said that students worried about the cleanliness of the facilities they use should either submit a work order or reach out to Director for Campus Services Gary Hill.

“We understand that custodians, students, faculty and staff need time to adjust to the new routines,” Thurler said. “If there are concerns about cleanliness that have not been addressed, we very much want to hear about those concerns. We believe we have responded to everyone who has reached out to us with questions or comments so far, and the number of complaints that we’ve received since the start of the semester has significantly declined.”

Joseph said many janitors have likewise encouraged students who are unsatisfied with facilities’ conditions to submit reports to the university and are also unhappy about the cleanliness of campus since the reorganization.

“A lot of [janitors] take a lot of dignity in their work,” she said. “Having this campus be a not sanitary place for students is not something they would feel good about or comfortable with.”

Colon said she frequently notices areas that appear dirty that would never have been dirty before the reorganization. She explained there simply isn’t time to do all the work required.

“The university is not interested in whether the worker feels comfortable in their work,” she said. “They are making us overworked … You can see that the campus is dirtier.”

Arita added that it’s not fair that parents of Tufts students pay large amounts of money to the university when the campus is not clean and janitors are struggling under heavy workloads.

“I can feel the frustration of my colleagues, and they are feeling pain,” she said. “The excess work that DTZ has given each of my colleagues is not going to be possible. My colleagues are not going to be able to continue doing a good job because they have too much work. This is unfair to the students.”

In response to the custodial reorganization, TLC has raised over $5,270 from over 95 donors through the Justice for Janitors Community Fund to support custodial workers like Arita who lost their jobs, according to the YouCaring crowd funding site used to collect the donations.

The fund, made up of donations from students, parents and alumni, was started last semester to create a resource for janitors whose jobs were most threatened, according to Gaebler. TLC’s goal is to raise $8,000 in total — $1,000 for each janitor who lost their job.

TLC also raised funds using campus events, such as the TCU Cause Dinner on Nov. 17 that TLC organized in conjunction with the Tufts Freethought Society. At the dinner, students had the option to donate meal swipes, meal money or Jumbo Cash to the janitor’s fund.

“The money raised will go to the eight janitors working at Tufts who were laid off over the past year,” the Facebook event read. “All could use financial support, and about half are still unemployed and struggling to pay for housing and food for their families.”

TLC is also holding a fundraising event on Friday — the “Justice for Janitors FUNdraiser.” The proceeds of tickets, sold on a sliding scale from $1 to $20, will go to the janitor’s fund, according to the event page.

Arita said that the janitor’s union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the university have not done sufficient work to support janitors like herself who have been laid off.

“The union is not doing the work they need to do,” she said. “The university only sees us as people who clean bathrooms, not as real people who also have feelings and families depending on us. We need to bring a check home to support our family and our children.

Emma Steiner translated interviews in Spanish into English. 

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