Several custodians voice concerns about new ’team cleaning’ program

Proposed changes in the structure of the custodial work-day have sparked discontent among some Williams custodians.

The Office of Custodial Services has announced a new “team cleaning” pilot program whereby custodians will work in teams of four on four different buildings throughout the course of the day. Organizers say they hope the new system will even out custodial work schedules.

Under the new system, for example, the four custodians who currently care for Williams, Hopkins, Clark and Mission Park, will join together and spend a few hours of each day at each place, working as a team.

The new program will go into effect later this month, replacing the old system whereby one custodian was assigned to each student residence and academic building. Custodial supervisors Bea Miles, Pete Mason, Dick McMahon and Ed Bourdon came up with idea for the team cleaning program. Although individual supervisors declined to comment on the new program or respond to specific concerns, the Office of Custodial Services did issue a written statement describing the change.

“Team cleaning is something we have been looking at and studying for the past two years,” the statement read. “From what we have seen at Colby College, UMass and other schools, combined with our studies, we believe we can make a positive change in our working environment and make the schedule equitable for all our custodians.”

The supervisors also expressed confidence in the effectiveness of the new program: “We feel confident that our staff does and will do an outstanding job in a team environment. We have seen it work during emergencies, commencement, alumni weekend, summer conference, clean up at the end of the academic year and the end of the summer.”

However, some custodians are wary about the impending changes.

Morgan Custodian Debbie Morin said she is confused about how the new program will work.

“It takes me eight hours to clean Morgan,” she said. “We’ll be doing each building in two hours. They say it’ll be more efficient, but everyone’s scared it’s not going to work.”

Morin said several objections were raised to the new program at a meeting of custodians and supervisors in late August.

According to Morin, under the present system custodians move out of the labor-intensive dorms and into academic buildings (which are easier to maintain) as they gain seniority. Morin said many custodians at the meeting argued that the older custodians may not be able to do the physically intensive work required to clean the dorms.

“Older people who have worked here 10 or 12 years don’t want to go back to the dorms,” she said. “Maybe they only have to work four hour days in the academic buildings. The bosses want to even out the hours.”

Another custodian who declined to give his name also expressed dissatisfaction with the new program.

“I take a lot of pride in the fact that I handle my own building,” he said. “They are taking away your main impetus for pride.”

The custodian added that the new team pilot program will create conflicts of personality between custodians.

He explained that the Office of Custodial Services told the staff at a July meeting that each custodian on the team will be assigned a task in each building each week on a rotating basis.

“Every person does their job in their own unique way,” he said. “They say you’ll have your own task assigned for a week, your week, but that’s unrealistic. If you’re working as a team, all people’s work and their attitudes are going to affect you. You can’t be singular in a team.”

Sawyer custodian Kathy Lampiasi agreed. “I don’t know how it can work out without having a lot of personality conflict,” she said. “I guess we will have to try it and see how it works out.”

“I am not saying it won’t work,” she added.”It hasn’t been tried yet.”

However, the Office of Custodial Services remains confident that the new program will not have a negative impact on the custodians or Williams students. “It is important that everyone understand that team cleaning will not affect the level of service we provide; nor will it affect present staff,” the statement read. “We are committed to our employees and there will not be any reduction in our current custodial staff.”

“The only impact on student housing will be the time schedule,” the statement continued. “The current schedules have custodians in the buildings usually in the very early morning. The teams will not be in student housing buildings until later in the morning, when they will be less disruptive.”

Students praised their custodians for their level of commitment, and expressed concern about a possible decline in personal contact as a result of the new system.

Jeremy Faust ’01, a resident of Chadbourne, said: “I would say [the Chadbourne custodian] talks about his buildings with a sense of ownership. He calls us ‘my kids.’ Actually I like having John around, because I know he’s good. It’s nice to have someone to depend on.”

“ I think I’d be less inclined to ask for help [under the new policy],” Faust added. “John helped me move my couch in– we couldn’t have gotten it in without him. From a student’s perspective, I definitely know and trust him. We have a white board where we leave messages. He communicates very well [with the students].”

Bobby McGehee ’02 expressed mixed feelings about the new system. “It makes sense if you have a big dorm like Tyler that’s always really messy,” he said. “But I’d miss seeing (our custodian) around. The custodians should be able to determine what’s an equitable work schedule.”

Peter Krause ‘02 was hesitant to support the change. “I think if [the Office of Custodial Services] can prove it’s better for the custodians, then it’s a good idea,” he said. “But it seems like the custodians would know better than they would.”