The UT Custodial Staff
The unsung heroes of the University of Texas at Austin are by far the Custodial Staff workers. They are forced to put up with anything the administration can dish out, mainly because Texas forbids state employees to strike. A number of these employees are international workers, and UT knows this. However the handbook that these workers are given are only printed in English. UT is also one of the largest employers in Central Texas but by no means sets an ethical example of how to treat workers.
The 1981 Appropriations Act stated that all full-time UT employees were to receive pay increases of four percent or 100 dollars per month, whichever was larger. However, UT was the only state agency to rip off its workers. It did so under the guise of carrying out the pay raises. UT knowingly misinterpreted the law in that it assigned the raise to the individual. Once that individual left so did the raise. UT went as far as to call it a ‘recruiting rate.’
In response to this, the University Employee’s Union (UEU) presented a lawsuit against UT in 1982. It was done on behalf of eight union members, one of them being Jim Kieke. Kieke was a CWA/TSEU member working for the Perry-Castaneda Library when he noticed that other workers of the same position were making more than he was receiving. “The situation was such that between two people with the same position there was a marked difference in pay. I was making 0 less than employees who hold the same exact job title that I do,”2 Kieke said. The union began to look into the matter when people reported to them that when workers were promoted, new people were hired at a much lower rate. In actuality, this recruiting rate never changed.
It took more than eight years just to settle with the University, who agreed to compensate for not paying the 14.3 percent increase. 0,000 was distributed to over 2,200 current and former employees. However, employees hired, promoted, or reclassified between September 1, 1981 and August 31, 1983, still failed to receive their pay raises.
UT continues to mistreat it staff members. In October of 1988, UT changed it health insurance carriers from Aetna to American General Group Insurance. There were hefty increases in the premiums and the worst elements of HMO’s were also included. The costs of covering one’s family rose by 28 percent while receiving only a 2 percent raise. The doctors could change to lower rates in PPO’s, but under Aetna patients could choose their own doctor with 80 percent coverage. There is much speculation on whether the University signs a contract with a new company like this in which they are compensated for the shortcomings of their workers.
In 1993, Former Governor Ann Richards vetoed a rider in the 1993-95 Appropriations Bill that would have given pay raises on a merit-based only status that would have denied workers of an across-the-board pay raise. However, administrators had Rep. Rob Junell of San Angelo, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, undemocratically sneak the measure back into the bill after the committee voted it down. The bill was later passed in its entirety. Merit-based pay raises are usually not received by a majority of workers. The few fortunate ones are usually the favorites, not necessarily the most deserving. Also these merit-based pay raises often go to high-level administrators and their assistants. University administrators are able to channel funds into their own pockets and pet projects. These raises are not calculated into the base pay of workers and disappear when the position is filled by new employees, which is reminiscent of the 1981 Appropriations Act and its results (that was declared illegal, but this still happens). Mary Knight, associate director of the UT Budget Office has denied each of these claims.
During this time frame, roughly from August of 1992 to August of 1993, the administration had rewarded themselves with much larger raises than those of the staff. James Vick, Vice President of Student Affairs, actually received the smallest increase out of some of the top administrators with a measly 5.97% increase while Vice Provost Patricia Ohlendorf received a 25.2% increase in her salary. Prior to these raises, both were making at least ,000. This is in comparison to a 3 percent raise of a ,000 job.
In a meeting on February 16, 1998, the Faculty Council voted to donate a portion of their raise pool to that of the vastly underpaid staff. Each of these employees (faculty and staff alike) was to receive a 2.5 percent pay increase, but it was agreed upon that the staff was to receive a 3 percent raise while the faculty received only a 2.1 percent increase. Although President Faulkner had absolutely no part in this, he approved this plan.
In 1997 in Austin, the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development had determined the fair market rent value for a one-bedroom apartment to be 5. The yearly salary needed to meet this standard is more than ,000 higher than UT’s minimum at ,574. Peg Kramer, the former President of the University Staff Association, said her “best guesstimate as to how many University employees fall below that rate is 3,000.”1
At UT, there are endless amounts of endowments, gifts, donations, etc. that go to the athletics department and pay most of President Faulkner’s salary. Last year he received 2,000, with only ,000 of that coming from the state. He receives housing and car allowances in addition to the other 7,000. It has been cited numerous times that similar endowments should be set up so the workers can get more than the measly amount they receive, but Faulkner was quoted “I don’t think it’s practical...Salaries have to be based on recurring dollars; the money has to be there every year.”1 On the other hand, Faulkner does receive more and more money every year from the same endowments every year. Faulkner also said, “Even if you raised 0 million, the return [on the investment] would be four or five million dollars annually, and that’s not going to come close to what we need this year.”1 The staff will take what it can get since many have at least a job or two outside of their full-time position at UT. Also, UT started the We’re Texas! fund in 1997, and that has already collected more than ,250,000,000, which according to Faulkner, would generate or million on a return that would give staffers a sufficient raise. Patricia Ohlendorf was also cited two or three years ago, “We’ll come up about million dollars short of what we need [to bring salaries up to an appropriate level].”1 That statement was made soon after million was spent on the Suida-Manning Collection for the Blanton Art Museum. After receiving a 16.3 percent raise from the University, Former Chancellor William Cunningham purchased the art collection so the school can claim it did not have the money to buy it.
Team Cleaning, adopted by UT in 1995, is a technique in which certain jobs are assigned to a ‘team’ of custodial workers, and those jobs are to be completed in a certain span of time. According to the National Education Association webpage:
Team Cleaning as a technique was developed for use in empty office buildings...and points out that team cleaning is less effective in other settings, like schools. Often it is merely a way of disguising a speed-up that makes it hard for custodians to provide a full variety of duties that are needed to maintain a quality learning environment in schools.
A petition to end Team Cleaning was started in the fall of 2001. That September, the custodial staff collectively wrote of the unhealthy working conditions to the UT administration, who later dismissed the letter. Furthermore, students, parents, and faculty members provided over 3,000 signatures. The UT administration received the signatures during a press conference on February 14, 2002. The administration has given minute attention to the matter since the Student Government has unanimously passed a resolution to end Team Cleaning. In addition to Student Government, the custodial staff has received help from the USA (University Staff Association), the MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan), and the CLGSA (Chicana/o Latina/o Graduate Student Association). Custodial workers filed many complaints in the form of written pamphlets, letters, grievances, press conferences, and even a meeting with President Faulkner. Amazingly enough, the Main Tower and Pickle Research Center are both cleaned using Zone Cleaning, making these buildings much cleaner than others on campus.
Physical Plant 1 (PP1) hired a private firm named Managemen Inc., to crunch some numbers and to provide general advising. They determined that with Team Cleaning, tasks needed half of the workers operating while on a time constraint.
Team Cleaning replaced Zone Cleaning, which proved a much cleaner policy. More workers were required to complete each set of tasks, and there was no time frame. Zone Cleaning actually reinforces teamwork and cooperation much more than Team Cleaning since the custodial staff members worked together. On the contrary, workers are now scattered, attempting to complete the assigned tasks. The average amount of area that each worker is expected to clean range from 21,000 to 40,000 square feet. The workers on a ‘team’ are all given certain time intervals in which to do their jobs, but their workloads vary. Workers are becoming more and more angered by their peers since some have to mop and vacuum large areas on floors while others simply clean mirrors. This tension only adds to the already poor working environment. Two workers using Team Cleaning once cleaned a building with 120,000 sq. ft.
A good example of this was when four ‘specialists’ (in other words, normal workers expected to perform inhumane tasks) were directed to clean a building, which previously needed eight people to do the same job. This building had eight stories and 12,000 sq. ft. per floor. Theoretically, this building then has 96,000 sq. ft., and it was cleaned in four hours by four people. This means each worker was to clean 6000 sq. ft. per hour assuming no breaks were taken and they never slowed down. That boils down to 100 sq. ft. per minute. The time constraint is by far the largest factor in Team Cleaning, and it forces workers to physically run between buildings in order to complete their assigned tasks in the span of time provided. A ‘team’ is ordered to clean various buildings; for example the Nursing building, buildings A, B, JH, CDL, the School of Social Work, and the Swimming Center are on the same cleaning plan. This means they are to run across MLK clasping their equipment, since they are expected to carry their equipment everywhere they go, no matter what the weather forecasts. Workers are also supposed to run up and down stairs in the buildings that they are cleaning. A 100 pound 71-year old woman is expected to carry a full vacuum up and down stairs simply to clear the time span provided by the computer program used by Managemen Inc.
The Custodial Staff has dropped nearly 29% since 1986, 485 to 345 workers, with a turnover rate that is not discussed by UT administration. Former Physical Plant Director Mark Hunter once told the Daily Texan, “We’re overburdened and under resourced.” The staff is required to cover so much more area than 1995 since the campus is expanding and the amount of staff workers in receding.
The poor working environment is epitomized by unhealthy working conditions. An example of this occurred in August of 2001, when workers were still required to handle CSP and chlorine, which clean the pools. These are dangerous chemical agents that burn the skin, cause respiratory problems, and are threat to eyesight. The University does not provide any instruction in how to deal with these agents. In September of 2001, Sharon K. Burleson, manager of the custodial staff, told the Daily Texan about the custodial workers who work in dangerous laboratories without proper training. The administration has continually ignored workers’ complaints.
UT is by far one of the largest employers in Central Texas. Many people come here to work, but it is one of the worst employers around. The administration dismisses almost anything regarding the custodial staff. It takes enough people to care, which is still hard to come by even in the largest university in the world.
“Eliminate the paradox of poverty in the land of plenty.”
1 “Wage Rage,” Texas Alcalde 1999.
2 “UT Nears Settlement With TSEU.”