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April 15, 1999

Opinions vary on new plan to improve custodial services

Opinions vary on new plan to improve custodial services

Some faculty and staff think a plan to improve custodial service here has had the opposite effect, but Pitt administrators are calling the two-month-old plan a qualified success.

Under the plan, which was implemented by Facilities Management Feb. 7, most custodians have been transferred to non-daylight hours. About 130 custodians — up from 63 under the old system — are working 4 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. or 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. For the approximately 70 working on daylight, the shift is 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., instead of 6 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

According to Facilities Management officials, the plan was designed to increase efficiency of custodial staff, correct imbalances in workload, reduce disruption in public areas during the day and introduce more efficient and cost-effective heavy-duty cleaning equipment, better suited for off-hours.

Under the new plan, custodians are on a more rigid room-by-room schedule and have different duties.

Previously, custodians in the Cathedral of Learning, for example, were responsible for all cleaning on a small number of floors. Now daylight staff are required to pick up trash and clean offices only, but they have more floors to cover.

Evening- and night-shift staff now clean common areas, such as hallways, stairwells and restrooms. Libraries and most classrooms are cleaned during non-daylight hours, as well.

Lewis Brower, Facilities Management director of maintenance and operations, stressed that it is too early to judge the plan's long-term success. "Every time we make a change or move a worker, it means we have to accommodate where that person was. I think it will really be another few months until we reach a certain 'equilibrium.'"

He called the new custodial plan a qualified success. "It's gone mostly as expected. Is it perfect? I'd have to say 'no,'" Brower said. "But I'd also say we've had up to — or surpassed — service levels in most areas."

The single biggest problem, according to Brower, has been that some offices requesting night cleaning did not realize they needed to provide access — keys or electronic codes for restricted areas — to workers. "They were used to a certain level of [daylight] service over the years, and were expecting the same level, but workers couldn't access certain areas. But I think we've gotten most of that straightened out," he said.

Brower acknowledged there is still some fine-tuning to be done. There were some areas where the overall cleaning and time standards that Facilities Management applies did not meet the needs, he said.

"There were some legitimate complaints from our clients and we've tried to address them," Brower said. As an example, he cited the University Child Development Center (UCDC) on Clyde Street. "We originally had one full-time night-turn person and one person for two hours at night. But we found that, with the young kids there during the day and with the cleaning-time standards we normally apply, the situation called for two full-time [night-shift] people, so that's what we have there now," Brower said.

Sherry Cleary, director of UCDC, said the center has about 170 children, all 6 years of age or younger, and that day-time cleaning is not appropriate. A custodian picks up trash after lunch and at the end of the day, she said. "Facilities Management, after some discussion — and I think discussion is good — really did respond to our situation. I also think overall the caliber of cleaning had to be addressed [at Pitt] and if that means implementing alternative systems, I'm all in favor of it," Cleary said.

A sampling of Pittsburgh campus faculty and staff opinion revealed a variety of complaints about the plan:

* A Benedum Hall staff member said that, with more custodians on night shift, cleaning in the common areas has deteriorated. "I think with no one checking on them, often no one even around, they have no incentive to do the work right," he said.

* A faculty member whose office is in the Information Sciences Building bemoaned "the loss of personal ownership in the work" created by the night shifts. "We used to know the [custodial] worker in our building. Now we hardly see the custodians, let alone know them," the faculty member said. "The previous person was conscious of my schedule. He would clean my office before I got in in the morning, usually about 7 [a.m.]. I swear this person waits until I have a meeting with a student and then comes in my office."

* A Craig Hall staffer said cleaning of restrooms on her floor has improved since the plan's implementation, but that day-time service has deteriorated. "I've had to complain more than once that my garbage was not being emptied daily," she said.

* A Law Building staff member said, "I preferred the old system, mainly because I got my garbage emptied every day, and now that's not happening. Generally, though, I haven't noticed much difference in the overall cleaning levels."

* A staff member whose office is in Forbes Quadrangle said, "I think I've seen three or four different custodial people in my office over the past month, so I think there might be some confusion happening. But I guess that's part of adjusting to the new system."

* According to a staff member in the Victoria Building, the common areas there are heavily trafficked, with some 800 students taking classes. "My feeling is if that area is cleaned only at night, after only a few hours during the day, it's ready to be cleaned again. I also think the day-time custodian is spread too thin with so many floors to cover," she said.

* "I think the service is about the same for the common areas, but I don't think the offices are getting as much attention as they need," a staff member in Scaife Hall said.

* A staff member in the Cathedral of Learning said she was glad her floor still had the same custodian cleaning their offices. "But our custodian used to be able to vacuum before a lot of us got here; now she can't, since our hours overlap. And I feel she's been under a little more stress lately," she said. The overall service has been much the same, the staffer said. She pointed out that one inconvenience is that part-time students who have business in her office, but are not given office keys, have a harder time finding the custodian for access to locked offices. Before the change, the staff member said, "she was always easy to find, either on this floor or the one right below."

* Another Cathedral staff member said service has gone downhill since the plan's implementation, citing new "dust bunnies" in and around her office. "It's my sense our maintenance person has more work that can be handled," she said. "I really don't think it's her fault. Overall, for me, I'm not ready to throw in the towel. But I hope [Facilities Management] will be more realistic about how much work needs to be done," the staffer said.

According to an official of the union that represents the custodians, many of the 200 workers themselves are frustrated with the new system.

Nelson Bryant, business agent for Local 29 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), AFL-CIO, said union leadership called a meeting for workers to air their opinions.

"What we heard [from custodians] is that some on night-turn are concerned with safety, since they have to move from building to building during their shifts," Bryant said. "Others say they're not being shown how to do their new assignments by supervisors, nor has it been demonstrated that the work can be done in the [designated] length of time," he said.

Three custodial workers who requested anonymity criticized the new system.

One worker said, "I just want to do my job. I like my job. But I don't need someone wet behind the ears telling me I have to follow a list. You couldn't follow the list [completely] even if you tried."

Workers are given check-lists that include rooms and offices, schedules for cleaning and maintenance standards required. Many workers cover multiple buildings during one shift, making it impossible to return to do postponed work until at least the following day.

Another custodian said there is much more pressure to stick to a schedule than under the old system. "People were used to a certain level of cleaning and help. They knew they could ask me to do something for them, like move a desk, or do a special area or whatever. Or I could come back and vacuum later in my shift if it was bothering someone. Now, I have to say, 'Hey, wait, I have to go to my other building.'"

A custodian said the shift time was not ideal. "I thought I was going to like Monday-Friday daylight [shift], but I wish they'd make it 7 to 3:30 or 6 to 2:30, instead of 8 to 4:30, so I'd be able to go to the bank, for example," the custodian said.

Local 29 of the service employees union is fighting the plan by filing a class action grievance and requesting that an outside arbitrator decide if Pitt acted outside the contract by enforcing the plan.

An arbitration hearing is not yet scheduled pending agreement on an arbitrator, according to John Greeno, assistant vice chancellor for employee/labor relations.

After an arbitrator is named and a hearing held, the arbitrator must rule in 30 days. The decision is binding under terms of the contract, which expires Dec. 31, 1999.

–Peter Hart

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