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WSU custodians clean more with less after budget cuts
Published 9/19/2012 6:00:00 AM
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Megan Peterson / The Daily EvergreenCustodian Michael McCabe cleans the bathrooms during his daily rounds Tuesday in Kimbrough Hall.

WSU custodial services faced cuts in recent budget plans, but the department has saved jobs and most services since then to keep the campus clean for students and faculty.

Pam Hilliard, executive director of WSU Facilities Operations resource planning and business services, said custodial services received a $104,333 cut in the 2011 budget. Any positions eliminated in the cut were already unfilled, she said, so no custodians lost jobs.

“We cut three positions as part of the reduction and abolished an additional five positions based on the university’s hiring freeze in effect at the time,” Hilliard said. “All were vacant at the time they were abolished.”

Joan King, chief university budget officer for WSU, said budget plans disproportionately cut from administrative areas, including janitorial services, to preserve academic areas, such as colleges and libraries. She said they won’t know of any cuts for the upcoming budget until the next legislative session in January.

The cuts have affected custodians like Michael McCabe, who cleans the Kimbrough music building, a high-traffic place for students, visitors and faculty. With extra activities like marching band, the piano sale and night concerts, McCabe said his workload does not match his $12-14 an hour pay.

“To put it plain and simple, I’ve got more work and I’m not making more money,” he said. “If you have a building with a third more square footage but not a lot of activity, and then a building with less but a lot of activity, that is going to keep you busy.”

Activity for McCabe calms down after football season, he said, but then snow-shoveling picks up.

The custodians haven’t had a decent raise in more than five years, he said, and they still face more work with new buildings and an ongoing hiring freeze.

“I’m looking for retirement in the next three years, and I’ll be glad to get out of here,” McCabe said. “I love working here at the college, but it can be a lot of pressure at times, and I’ve suffered physically sometimes.”

McCabe said he receives a little help from a custodian who now works in the basement of Kimbrough. Unfortunately though, his supervisors have no other resources to help alleviate the load for any of the custodians, he said.

“People say you’re lucky to have a job, but they’re lucky to have us, in my opinion, because we are doing twice the work with less personnel,” McCabe said.

Tom Parrish, director of custodial services with WSU Facilities Operations, said the custodial staff reduced certain services to deal with budget cuts. Custodians now ask faculty and staff to clean their individual office spaces and they vacuum and mop less-used areas, like research labs and stairwells, once every two weeks, he said.

“What we do is you look at the number of people we have and then adjust our cleaning frequencies,” Parrish said. “We used to, at one time, go and empty the trash in the offices. Now, each custodian can take on a larger area because they are doing less in their assigned space.”

Although custodians clean certain remote areas only two to three times a week, they still disinfect rooms every day in the main areas of campus, including bathrooms, Parrish said. The department also uses specific cleaning products that help make the job more efficient, he said.

“We went through and prioritized the work and tried to keep everything at the highest possible level we could,” Parrish said. “We were asked to provide how we would deal with a certain percentage cut. Administration determined if our changes were acceptable or not.”

Erin Rice, assistant to the vice provost of international programs, said for certain cleaning tasks, just because the custodians no longer do them doesn’t mean they don’t need to be done. Rice and other faculty members now take out their own trash and do their own dusting, but it isn’t an issue, she said.

“I think for what tasks they’re given they are really trying to make it seem seamless that they’re not there,” Rice said. “I would say, aside from the little things that we’ve had to pick up ourselves, I think they’re doing the best job they can do.”

Parrish said the department invested in better equipment like rider scrubbers to help the custodial staff cover more ground with fewer people. Also, the university’s change to electric locks on most building doors cuts down on the time custodians spent manually locking them twice a day.

“By and large, the campus community has been very supportive,” Parrish said. “Ideally, it has not affected the students, but it has affected the overall cleanliness of the buildings. However, our goal is to do as best as possible to make it to where they don’t notice it in the classrooms.”

It is not fun for the staff to have to endure the changes to schedules and the size of area assigned to each member for cleaning, he said.

“I give my staff a whole lot of credit for accepting the changes and staying as positive as they have, and for really trying to provide the best possible service they can to campus,” Parrish said. “Our people have really tried to do the best they can, given the resources they have to work with.”

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