Custodial shift changes affect campus cleanliness

Maria Palomares has worked as a daytime custodian at Santa Ana College for 14 years. /el Don/ picture credit Nikki Nelsen

Empty soap dispensers. Dirty stairwells. Calls for cleanup left unanswered for hours. A series of drastic changes to the schedules of custodians at Santa Ana College this summer created a ripple effect that resulted in the loss of staff that is having an impact on campus cleanliness.  

For the first time in more than two decades, custodians got new shifts, although some were only changed by a few hours, others moved from daytime to graveyard. Several custodians quit in response, and their tasks were split between the remaining staff, according to those who stayed.

Maria Palomares, who has worked a day shift at SAC for 14 years, said that she is often overwhelmed with her own job and is unable to fulfill her new expanded duties or respond in time to additional requests.

“Last time we got the call to clean a wet chair in the classroom, and the class started in 10 minutes. We need more people to respond to calls like that in time,” said Palomares, whose shift was moved from a start time of 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., a change that also affected her personal life.

“Last semester I was able to make sure there is always toilet paper and enough soap in the restrooms before the classes started. Right now, I need to go to the D-Building to fill up the soap containers because they didn’t have any for weeks.”

Students and staff pointed to daytime restroom upkeep and stairwells, including those in the four-story Dunlap Hall, as main cleanliness concerns. Some say that it’s understandable that the restrooms get dirty since students use it frequently during the day, but that they’ve noticed a difference in cleanliness since the hours changed. Graffiti on the walls in some restrooms still needs to be cleaned off.

“There are not custodians to make rounds during the day and keep restrooms clean for students,” said Sean Small, vice president of the California School Employee Association, the union that represents classified staff. “This work is done on the graveyard shift only at the moment. We are still actively engaged with the district working to improve this situation for everyone.”

It is unclear how many custodians quit after the shift changes were abruptly changed in July; however, a department workflow chart posted to the school website Nov. 13 shows four vacant custodian positions. A district job posting for a part-time custodian closed last week.

Mario Gaspar, who took over as the director of physical plant and facilities earlier this year, said his department is working to ensure that supplies are restocked on time. He did not return requests for comment on the schedule changes or whether the district plans to fill the remaining vacant positions.

“In the time that I’ve been at Santa Ana College, I’ve witnessed maintenance, grounds, and custodians work to improve the campus to the best of their abilities,” Gaspar said. “Some necessary adjustments have been made to the Maintenance and Operations department to improve the facilities for students, staff, faculty, and the community.”

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During public comment at the July 16 Board of Trustees meeting, a group of custodians spoke about the impact of their unexpected schedule changes.

Custodian Suon Tuon has worked at SAC for almost 20 years. He spoke on behalf of the new graveyard shift custodians and said they are not able to properly clean windows and other outdoor items now due to the lack of daylight. He proposed further adjustments that would allow custodians to start an hour earlier on some days and work a swing shift on Friday. Only the first request regarding beginning an hour earlier was agreed to.

Another custodian, Jose Garcia, who cleaned the Child Development Center until early July, had concerns that the building was not being thoroughly disinfected with the current schedule. Now, there is one full-time person assigned to the center. In his opinion, there are not enough human resources to do the same work that was previously done by three part-time employees.

“This place is for kids and needs to be disinfected every day,” Garcia told the board. “I was transferred from CDC to do the campus job as a cover guy. I go wherever they send me, but I believe I will be more useful somewhere where I can do more stuff. Many people quit since July, but I am not a quitter, and I want my voice to be heard.”

Small said Garcia was passionate about the standards required to clean the CDC and that the union opposed relocating him because it would impact the children at the center.

Jerelyn Cowan, the director of Child Development Center said that the weekday number of custodial support hours remain comparable, and that sanitization is a daily practice carried out by the classroom staff and not custodians. 

“The classroom staff set aside and disinfects toys that become soiled or mouthed daily and surfaces such as tables, counter tops, sinks, etc. are cleaned and disinfected at regular, designated intervals as indicated on our daily health and safety checklist” Cowan said.

Sheryl Martin, the president of the California School Employee Association, spoke on behalf of the custodians during the Board of Trustees meeting. She said that the personal lives of janitors have also been affected by the changes and though they wrote a letter in which they asked for a compromise on the new hours, it was rejected.

“You see them in the back of the room standing for what is right. They are people like you and I, who have families, and personal lives” Martin said.

Marta Konarska
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