Custodial reshuffling prompts mixed reactions from staff

By Charlie Keohane

Van Barth
Custodial staff have been reshuffled to new buildings and shift times this year.

To accommodate workplace safety measures put in place due to Covid-19, the custodial department developed a new cleaning schedule which now includes readjusted shifts — including some at night or starting as early as 4 a.m. — and services seven days a week. Staff members not only were forced to adjust to new hours but were rearranged across campus, leaving some frustrated with their new shifts and locations.

The more rigorous cleaning and disinfecting regimen necessitated by the pandemic prompted the department to reorganize its operations last fall. Before Covid-19, staff members primarily worked during the day, according to Associate Director for Custodial and Support Services Missy Beckwith.

Custodial is now disinfecting classrooms daily — an increase from the previous Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule — a change put in place during the fall semester. Teams are also cleaning residential spaces between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. to minimize contact with students.

Beckwith said that the change allowed the department to meet the higher bar for cleaning set by the pandemic and was also instituted to protect the health of staff members tasked with cleaning these spaces.

“In order to be efficient and effective and meet Covid cleaning standards that keep us safe and to help our staff feel good and safe — meaning that they’re not in congested, heavily occupied buildings — we created the overnight shift,” Beckwith said. 

Previously, only public places like the library were cleaned on weekends, but according to Beckwith, the pandemic has increased the need to disinfect surfaces around campus. 

These changes have prompted mixed reactions from staff.

“The only really big thing that I feel in how my job has changed is the added work of disinfecting and the times that we clean spaces,” one staff member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said. “[For] example, [we] used to not be able to clean a dorm until after 8 a.m. Now we go in at 4 in the morning.” 

While reassigning new shifts, the department sent a survey to its staff that allowed them to share when they were able and willing to work.

“I feel like things are working well. However, I feel there are some of my co-workers who want to change shifts,” the anonymous staff member said. 

Custodian Jenny Hargett was unhappy with the new arrangement. She had previously spent the last four years working in Hadley, but was recently moved to the Chateau, where she continues her job of daily cleaning and disinfecting. Hargett was unsure why she and other staff had to be relocated to new buildings.

“I get that there’s guidelines, and we all understand,” she said. “But we’re not doing anything different in these dorms that we’re in now than the dorms we would have been in originally.”

Hargett misses the students that she got to know over the course of each year in Hadley, and believes that students in that dorm knew her name and were more comfortable approaching her with issues — such as broken appliances or the need for toiletries — or questions. She feels like her time would be better spent on her old floor rather than in the Chateau. 

“We’re all very upset; morale around campus is really low for staff. We just don’t feel like we’re appreciated.” Hargett said. “I don’t think any of us feel like we’ve got an opinion that is heard.”

As a result of the increased workload, workplace safety measures and the taxing schedule, custodians no longer clean suites. Custodial also no longer fully cleans small houses, though they do come through to disinfect surfaces. Students living in either of these types of residences were provided with cleaning supplies at the beginning of each semester and are expected to keep their spaces tidy.

Beckwith hopes that this gives students in apartment-style living more independence. Additionally, she said that the risk of spreading Covid-19 in these spaces is reduced because the same small groups of students are living in one place instead of a more highly trafficked dorm building. 

While the pandemic has brought new challenges, it has also allowed the department to become more adaptive, according to Team Liaison Sierra Lane. 

“Ideally, no one wants to be dealing with coronavirus, but we are managing,”  Lane said. “We are definitely stepping up.”