Through WOWSA (Week of Worker Solidarity Action), a program organized by the United Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) to put students in touch with Sun Services workers and allow them to witness firsthand their work schedules, an Argus reporter was able to shadow David, a custodian whose name has been changed in this article, for part of his shift. In order to further protect the anonymity of the custodian, the locations and time frame of his shift have intentionally been made vague.
In the early morning of Wednesday, Oct. 15, I met David outside of one of the buildings he cleans. He was dressed in work jeans and a light sweater, concealing the cerulean blue Sun Services T-shirt that is required as part of his uniform. David was humble and sweet, willing to show me every aspect of his job even though he knew it would lengthen his work day. He answered my many questions as carefully and thoughtfully as he could, despite my broken Spanish.
David told me things that I, as a new student, hadn’t known or hadn’t thought to ask. He commutes every day from more than half an hour away for his shift. He has a daughter, and it was her birthday the day I joined him on his shift.
Fourteen years ago, David came to Connecticut from South America. He and his wife had just married, and they decided that they could give any future children a better upbringing in the United States. Prior to coming to the U.S., David owned a taxi cab in his home country, and he was hoping to find success in a different profession once he arrived in America.
David has been a custodian at Wesleyan for the duration of his time in America. He said that, until last year, he was treated very well. However, since Sun Services took over the University’s custodial contracts, his workload has nearly quadrupled. Before, one custodian cleaned a set of halls. Now, one custodian cleans an entire building, or sometimes multiple buildings. David and his colleagues are still expected to complete their work within the time constraints of their shift.
David is responsible for multiple buildings. On each floor, he is expected to ensure that the hallway is free of garbage, empty the trash, and clean the bathrooms and kitchens.
First, he removes all of the garbage from each building, floor by floor, and then returns to the first building to start cleaning the bathrooms. As I accompanied him for these tasks, they seemed like they would never end.
While I was shadowing him, David received calls from his supervisor who was worried that I was helping David with his cleaning. Though the supervisor was aware of the shadowing program, legal concerns dictated that students could not help with the work.
I was soon made aware of the trivial things, which often go unnoticed by students, that amplify David’s workload. He showed me the bottom of a garbage can after he had removed the garbage bag that was stained with old coffee. Someone had thrown a full coffee cup into the garbage, and the bag had leaked and spilled coffee onto the bottom of the garbage can. As he cleaned the bottom of the can, David explained that things like this happen very often.
He showed me bits of cereal that were stuck to one of the sinks in the bathroom. Someone had emptied their breakfast into the sink haphazardly, and the responsibility to remove those cereal bits fell to him. Inconveniences such as this add up, and can cost David a lot of time while he is attempting to stay on track with his shift.
David explained to me that the most garbage accumulates at the beginning and end of the week, on Monday and Friday, with less at the middle of the week. Once he has collected all of the garbage bags from each floor, David brings them outside to the dumpster.
When it comes to cleaning the bathroom, David is expected to mop the floor, scrub the sinks and the toilets, and, every few days, clean the shower. Cleaning each shower can take up to 30 minutes, depending on how much hair is stuck in the drain.
According to David, his shift is lighter than others because he works from Monday to Friday and has weekends off, while other custodians, including those who work at the Freeman Athletic Center, work on weekends. Also, while he works an almost standard workday, some custodians have shifts that begin at 12 a.m. and last until 8 a.m., and some begin at 4 a.m. and last until 12 p.m.
David told me that he gets paid a little over $14 an hour, which is roughly $100 a day. His pay remained constant with the shift to Sun Services, even though his workload has greatly increased. The custodians have all been asked to work overtime on Homecoming weekend, but their overtime pay is only $21 an hour, which has been a source of contention.
In response to being asked if he plans to stay at the University, David replied that he had planned to stay indefinitely because his daughter was born here. However, he doesn’t know now how he’ll proceed or how his contract at the University will serve him in the future.