Category Archives: Custodial

Can Dirty Work be Satisfying? A Mixed Method Study of Workers Doing Dirty Jobs

Source: Stephen Deery, Deanna Kolar, Janet Walsh, Work, Employment and Society, Volume 33 Issue 4, August 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
It has been argued in this journal that sociologists can make an important contribution to the understanding of why workers report feeling satisfied with their work, particularly where job quality is poor. Utilising a mixed method approach, this article explores how employees derive satisfaction from dirty work. The term ‘dirty work’ refers to tasks and occupations that are perceived as disgusting, distasteful or degrading. The research was conducted among workers specialising in the cleaning of abandoned social or public housing apartments in high crime areas in the UK and the USA. The study identifies a number of different mechanisms through which workers are able to make work both more satisfying and establish a sense of self-worth from the tasks they perform, even though dirt and physical taint are central to the job.

“They Don’t Understand the Value of Life” An Interview with Clarence Jones

Source: Meagan Day, Jacobin, December 14, 2018

Clarence Jones was homeless, despite being employed as a janitor for a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company. He thought his situation was his fault. Then he got involved in his union.

Clarence Jones is a thirty-seven-year-old janitor living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He started cleaning the offices of Eli Lilly, a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company, in late summer of this year. By early autumn, he found himself homeless, despite working two jobs. By late autumn, Clarence had become an active rank-and-file union member in both his own workplace and other SEIU-represented workplaces around town.

There were a couple of big moments that caused shifts in Jones’ perspective. One was his first bargaining session, which coincided with his first week of being homeless. Jones says he felt like his situation was his own fault — until he sat across the table from the corporate representatives and saw how hard they resisted a raise for him and his coworkers.

The second moment was when a coworker pounded on the table at another bargaining session and asked, “Are we not worth it?” Jones and his coworkers then stood up and filed out of the room, heads held high. “I felt prideful in that moment. I felt very empowered,” recalls Jones. “For the first time, I felt part of something that I know I should be a part of. I know this is what I’m meant to be doing.”

Jacobin’s Meagan Day talked to Jones about his experience of personal transformation through class struggle….

Hospital-Acquired Infections: Stop Preventable Deaths

Source: Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), 2017

From the summary:
With provincial funding for Ontario hospital services falling for years, understaffing is getting worse in hospital environmental services, with reports of layoffs and cuts occurring regularly, a survey of front line cleaning staff has found. Concerns are growing among environmental service workers that Ontario hospitals do not have the capacity and enough cleaning staff to keep bedrails, mattresses, taps, door handles and chairs sterilized and bacteria free.

In the fall of 2016, the CUPE completed a survey of 421 hospital housekeeping staff from over 60 hospitals right across Ontario. Hospital-Acquired Infections: Stop Preventable Deaths, that melds the survey findings with recent public health agency and other research reports, was released in Cornwall today.

The survey revealed a disturbing pattern of speed up, working short, high levels of stress and injury at work. A large majority (78 per cent) report that more duties have been added to their work. Accordingly, a large majority (76 per cent) report working at a faster rate. Over half believe the situation is unsafe. As well, 40 per cent of hospital locals report that hospital environmental service hours have been cut, in the last year alone.

Seventy per cent of housekeeping staff also report working short. This occurs when staff who are off of work for vacation, sick leave, training, or other reasons are not replaced.

Infection can easily spread from patient to patient through personal touch or by touching contaminated shared surfaces. “There just aren’t enough cleaning staff to properly clean patient rooms, bathrooms and common areas to prevent infection. Because we are often working short, we are given additional duties and workloads for cleaning staff are enormous. Increasing staffing levels would go a long way to ensuring a safer environment for patients/clients, families, staff, physicians and volunteers,” says Nicholas Black a hospital cleaner.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that more than 200,000 patients get infections every year while receiving healthcare in Canada and that more than 8,000 of these patients, more than 3,000 of them Ontario patients, die as a result.

Tech’s Invisible Workers

Source: Silicon Valley Rising, March 2016

Low wage workers do their part to make Silicon Valley the most prosperous region in the world, yet they struggle every day to feed their families, pay their rent, and take care of themselves and their children when they are sick.

Although the region’s top tech firms made a record $103 billion in profits in 2013, one in three Silicon Valley households do not make enough money to meet their most basic needs.

While their direct employees are often well compensated, high tech companies contract out most of their jobs to workers who are poorly paid and don’t receive basic benefits.

And in a stark diversity gap, blacks and Latinos make up the majority of these janitors, food service workers, maintenance workers, security guards, and shuttle bus drivers who help build and sustain the tech economy — yet comprise just 3-4% of the core tech workforce.

A Plan is Emerging to Fight “Rape on the Night Shift”

Source: Christina Jewett, Frontline and Reveal, March 9, 2016

Female janitors working alone at night have been particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and reluctant to report it. Now, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said at a rally outside the Capitol today, it’s time for change. Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, announced at the rally that her office is working on a bill that would increase protections for female janitors. Gonzalez said she was moved to tears by the documentary “Rape on the Night Shift,” a collaboration between Reveal, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, KQED, FRONTLINE and Univision. It inspired her to improve conditions for women who are subject to abuse while cleaning buildings alone at night….. The investigation found rampant sexual violence against female janitors who work alone at night in empty offices and businesses. Janitors across the country said one simple solution would be having them work together in teams….

Race to the Bottom: How Low-Road Subcontracting Affects Working Conditions in California’s Property Services Industry

Source: Sara Hinkley, Annette Bernhardt and Sarah Thomason, University of California – Berkeley, Center for Labor Research and Education, March 8, 2016

From the press release:
The increased subcontracting of work for janitors and security guards in California over the past 30 years has led to lower wages, fewer benefits, higher rates of part-time work, inferior working conditions and illegal labor practices for those employees, according to a study released today by UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

The report, “Race to the Bottom: How Low-Road Subcontracting Affects Working Conditions in California’s Property Services Industry,” says the share of janitors in California hired by contractors more than doubled from 1980 to 2014, and the share of subcontracted security guards rose by 50 percent as office buildings, retailers, high-tech companies, residential developments and other industries moved to cut costs by outsourcing cleanup as well as security. ….
….The report — the first to cover these services over a 30-year period — includes these key findings about janitorial and security service jobs in California:
– From 2012 to 2014 contracted janitors earned 20 percent less than non-contracted janitors ($10.31 an hour compared to $12.85 an hour), and contracted security workers made 18 percent less than their non-contracted counterparts ($11.91 an hour compared to $14.48 an hour).
– Some 45 percent of contracted janitors and 32 percent of contracted security guards had no health insurance coverage in 2012-2014.
– Fifty-three percent of contracted janitors and 36 percent of contracted security guards live with families that fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and 48 percent of workers in both categories have at least one family member receiving public assistance. Annual costs to California taxpayers averaged $228 million between 2009 and 2014.
– Seventy-five percent of contracted janitors were born outside of the United States; Latinos make up 82 percent of the contracted janitorial workforce compared to 37 percent of the overall workforce. Meanwhile, black security guards account for 23 percent of contracted employees in that field, but just 6 percent of the overall workforce.
– Women hold 45 percent of the janitorial jobs; women janitors are at risk of sexual harassment and violence in what are often isolated workplaces…..

Characterization of Urinary Phthalate Metabolites Among Custodians

Source: Jennifer M. Cavallari, Nancy J. Simcox, Sara Wakai, Chensheng Lu, Jennifer L. Garza, and Martin Cherniack, Annals of Occupational Hygiene, Volume 59, Issue 8, October 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Phthalates, a ubiquitous class of chemicals found in consumer, personal care, and cleaning products, have been linked to adverse health effects. Our goal was to characterize urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and to identify work and nonwork sources among custodians using traditional cleaning chemicals and ‘green’ or environmentally preferable products (EPP). Sixty-eight custodians provided four urine samples on a workday (first void, before shift, end of shift, and before bedtime) and trained observers recorded cleaning tasks and types of products used (traditional, EPP, or disinfectant) hourly over the work shifts. Questionnaires were used to assess personal care product use. Four different phthalate metabolites [monoethyl phthalate (MEP), monomethyl phthalate (MMP), mono (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP), and monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP)] were quantified using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Geometric means (GM) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated for creatinine-adjusted urinary phthalate concentrations. Mixed effects univariate and multivariate modeling, using a random intercept for each individual, was performed to identify predictors of phthalate metabolites including demographics, workplace factors, and personal care product use. Creatinine-adjusted urinary concentrations [GM (95% CI)] of MEP, MMP, MEHP, and MBzP were 107 (91.0–126), 2.69 (2.18–3.30), 6.93 (6.00–7.99), 8.79 (7.84–9.86) µg g−1, respectively. An increasing trend in phthalate concentrations from before to after shift was not observed. Creatinine-adjusted urinary MEP was significantly associated with frequency of traditional cleaning chemical intensity in the multivariate model after adjusting for potential confounding by demographics, workplace factors, and personal care product use. While numerous demographics, workplace factors, and personal care products were statistically significant univariate predictors of MMP, MEHP, and MBzP, few associations persisted in multivariate models. In summary, among this population of custodians, we identified both occupational and nonoccupational predictors of phthalate exposures. Identification of phthalates as ingredients in cleaning chemicals and consumer products would allow workers and consumers to avoid phthalate exposure.

Erratum to “Acute symptoms associated with chemical exposures and safe work practices among hospital and campus cleaning workers: A pilot study”

Source: Soo-Jeong Lee, Bora Nam, Robert Harrison and OiSaeng Hong, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Special Issue: Moving Research to Practice in Construction Safety and Health, Volume 58, Issue 8, August 2015
(subscription required)

Acute symptoms associated with chemical exposures and safe work practices among hospital and campus cleaning workers: A pilot study
Source: Soo-Jeong Lee, Bora Nam, Robert Harrison and OiSaeng Hong, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, September 15, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Background: Cleaning workers are regularly exposed to cleaning products containing hazardous chemicals. This study investigated acute symptoms associated with chemical exposures among cleaning workers and their safe work practices.

Methods: This cross-sectional study included 183 cleaning workers employed in an academic medical center and affiliated health sciences campuses in Northern California. Data on respiratory, eye, skin, neurological, and gastrointestinal symptoms and occupational factors were collected by in-person interviews or self-administered questionnaires.

Results: Chemical-related symptoms (several times monthly or more often) were more common among workers who performed patient area cleaning (44%) than hospital custodians (36%) or campus custodians (28%). After controlling for age, sex, and job title, symptoms were associated with exposure to carpet cleaners, spray products, solvents, and multi-purpose cleaners). Except for gloves, regular use of personal protective equipment was infrequent.

Conclusions: Study findings suggest a need for additional interventions such as use of less toxic products to reduce health risks among cleaning workers.

Traditional and environmentally preferable cleaning product exposure and health symptoms in custodians

Source: Jennifer L. Garza, Jennifer M. Cavallari, Sara Wakai, Paula Schenck, Nancy Simcox, Tim Morse, John D. Meyer and Martin Cherniack, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, Article first published online: June 4, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Background: We investigated the associations between traditional and environmentally preferable cleaning product exposure and dermal, respiratory, and musculoskeletal symptoms in a population of custodians.

Methods: We analyzed associations between symptoms and exposure to traditional and environmentally preferable cleaning product exposure among 329 custodians.

Results: We observed increased odds of dermal, upper and lower respiratory, and upper extremity, back, and lower extremity musculoskeletal symptoms associated with increased typical traditional cleaning product exposure. We observed significant trends for increased odds of dermal and back and lower extremity musculoskeletal symptoms associated with increased typical environmentally preferable cleaning product exposure.

Conclusions: Fewer positive associations and reduced odds of health symptoms associated with environmentally preferable cleaning product exposure suggest that these products may represent a safer alternative to traditional cleaning products.