University meets new level of clean; janitor pride doesn’t reflect

Carnegie Mellon University facilities have reached a new standard of cleanliness, while janitorial workers find working conditions anything but spotless.

Last month, for the first time in school history, every academic and administrative campus building Carnegie Mellon operates reached or exceeded the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers’ (APPA) standards for cleanliness.

The APPA is considered an authority in facility management standards, and it prescribes appropriate levels of cleanliness for an environment that effectively supports its faculty and students.

This standard was met through a change in methodology established when Central Property Services (CPS), a third party who handles the school’s custodial concerns, renewed its contract with Carnegie Mellon in June 2004, according to Don Coffelt, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Facilities Management Services.

“I’m very pleased with both our approach to the delivery of custodial services and its results,” Coffelt stated in an e-mail.

The 112 full-time janitors and nine supervisors shifted from a task-driven approach to a prescriptive approach based on overall performance. This means if a carpet was scheduled to be vacuumed but did not need to be vacuumed, instead of cleaning it the worker would move on to something else that required attention, Coffelt explained.

Performance against this standard has been evaluated every six months by a third party, with physical inspection being performed by John Moran of Premier Facility Solutions.

Evaluations have improved each time, with 38 percent of academic and administrative buildings failing to meet the standard in October 2004 and 13 percent in October 2005. By March 2006, every academic and administrative building on campus met the standard.

According to Coffelt, Carnegie Mellon began outsourcing its custodial services in 1983 through a bidding system.

CPS took over in 1996 and provided services until June 2004, at which point they were awarded the contract a second time. The current contract includes provisions to have continued service through 2012.

Working conditions

Some workers, who chose to remain anonymous out of concern for their livelihood, felt the work environment created by management was sub-par.

One worker who has worked at Carnegie Mellon for over 25 years explained that since the outsourcing of the contract, in addition to not being able to feel part the University, workers have lost University employee privileges. These include the ability to bid for new jobs within the University, to take classes towards a Carnegie Mellon degree, and to have their children attend Carnegie Mellon for free.

Another worker brought up concerns about the number of employees on the job. “We don’t have the manpower to do it, but we get pushed to do it,” stated the worker, who noted that the facility being cleaned had three fewer workers now than when Carnegie Mellon handled the contract.

Rege Koslof, CPS’ director of custodial services, sees things differently.

“Everyone is overworked in every profession. This is an example of some people having the fortune to be passionate about their work and others just seeing it as a job.”

One worker expressed dissatisfaction with the uniforms.

“Look at this shirt I am wearing.” The worker was wearing a faded, worn, long-sleeved button-down with “Central Property Services” on the left chest. “This was given to me by an older worker. CPS gives us two T-shirts a year. How am I supposed to take pride in myself when I am wearing the same shirt every other day?”

The worker then pointed to a picture of a Carnegie Mellon alumnus. “See the pride in that man’s face. He would be ashamed if he saw what was going on here.”

A Future

In terms of working for CPS at Carnegie Mellon as a career, the turnover rate has dropped to a five-year low of around 25 percent a year, most of which occur in the first couple years of employment, Koslof

Some workers attribute attrition to a lack of ability to improve themselves.

“We should not worry about increasing the benefits for people on the bottom, but those that have been here for 20 or 40 years,” said one worker.

The benefits available at universities such as Carnegie Mellon exceed those at CPS office buildings. Denardo explained that the benefits operate on a hierarchal system based on how much time is spent with the company. The system sees increases in vacation and sick days over 20-year periods, but hourly pay plateaus at $13.20 after three and half years of service. Everyone receives a 40-cent-per-hour pay raise each year to account for inflation.

“I have been here two years, and next year, I will be making the same amount as a person who has been here over 40 years. It’s just not right,” one worker said.

Koslof noted that other professionals, such as plumbers and electricians, deal directly with the school. He felt negotiating two separate contracts, one with the union and one with the school, renewed on different dates, made things more complicated.

The Recent Protests

On March 25, 20 janitors gathered in front of the Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC) to
distribute leaflets concerning non-union wages the building’s custodial staff was receiving. This followed a 40-person rally the previous Thursday expressing the same concerns.

According to union organizer Tim Finucan, the building is a threat to Carnegie Mellon janitors. It is a possible infringement on full-time jobs, benefits, and the ability of University janitors to support their families. Another concern regarded the building, which receives $11.4 million in public funding, that pays its workers poverty wages.

Carnegie Mellon is the main tenant of the CIC building, which sits on the University’s campus. Currently, the building is owned by JJ Gumberg Co. and run by LG Realty Advisors, which hired Quality Service Incorporated and its non-union workers to attend to the building’s custodial needs. The seven non-union janitors in the CIC building make an hourly rate of $7.50 with no benefits.

According to Finucan, the University will eventually annex the building.

“Once the building is under CMU control, the low standards currently afforded to the janitorial staff in CIC could affect bargaining power. Whether it’s one, seven, or 1000 workers in the building, a threat to standards is a threat to standards,” stated Finucan. “We just want a responsible contractor to pay union wages.”

The Reality of It All

With no established safety net, many workers felt they were trapped in the system and were hesitant to leave because of the risk involved.

“I cannot risk not being able to support my family,” one worker said.

In addition to job stability, older workers feel the need to stay to collect their pension, and most are ineligible for Social Security due to salaries that surpass the minimum to qualify.

“I take pride in my work and will try to keep going as long as I can because nobody is going to pay my bills. I will just work until I drop dead,” a worker said.

But gestures from the students help the workers feel appreciated.

“At the end of the year when I worked in Mudge, the RAs and students got together and took a group picture and gave me a nice letter they all signed,” said one employee. “That made it all worth it.”