In the early hours of the morning, students can find janitors cleaning the bathrooms of their residence halls, making sure that the dorms are as clean as possible for the beginning of the school day.
Recently, these workers received news from ABM, their employer, that all employees whose shifts begin at 6 p.m. would start working instead at 11 p.m. This change in shift only applies to the janitorial staff at Fairfield, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union, according to Sonya Huber, associate professor of English and a chair of the Fairfield Welfare Committee, an organization that is designed to enhance the economic and professional status of the faculty at Fairfield.
This change in shift means that the janitorial staff would have to work overnight, a shift that is much more inconvenient, despite some having worked for Fairfield for the last 15 years. In addition, the janitors will no longer be assigned to work in a specific building, but will have to move as a group from building to building, which many of the janitors are concerned will cause transportation problems.
“Many of us feel that it is simply not right to move these dedicated workers to the third shift, where they will be invisible and isolated, and connections with their coworkers — the faculty, staff and students — would be broken,” Huber said.
“Third-shift work plays havoc with families and sleep patterns, ultimately jeopardizing the health and well-being of employees,” she continued.
Rona Preli, the president of the FWC and an associate professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University, added that “They [the janitorial staff] understand that their union is making these changes and that the changes are primarily aimed at cost saving. However, the changes to the employees’ schedules will impact many of the older staff that have been with the University for years.”
Sophomore Tori Marek feels that it’s not fair that these changes affect the schedules of workers who have been with Fairfield for years.
“I don’t think that it’s fair that these employees have likely had the same hours for their time here. They will now need to change their lives around, which can have a big effect on their personal lives and families,” Marek said.
Associate Professor of Communication Gisela Gil-Egui also noted that this change in shift will not only have an impact on the workers, but also on the students.
“The change is problematic for students and instructors who attend evening courses at Fairfield, because now they won’t find clean, supplied bathrooms as they used to find in the past, when the janitors cleaned them by the end of the afternoon,” Gil-Egui said.
Freshman Julia Nojeim agreed, saying that it would make more sense for the janitors to clean the residence halls in the morning than at night.
“In terms of bathrooms, it will be less ideal to start the day with a dirty bathroom. Also, having the staff cleaning at night may impact the nightly routines of students,” Nojeim said.
Gil-Egui regularly talks with one of the janitors in Donnarumma Hall, which is where she learned about the conditions of the janitorial staff at Fairfield. “That motivated me to share her concern with the Faculty Welfare Committee, in an attempt to mobilize solidarity from the faculty with the janitorial staff.”
Gil-Egui added that there was a miscommunication between ABM, the University and employees as to the reason for the change in shift. Apparently, ABM told the workers that the reason for the change of schedule was requested by the University, but the chief of staff at Fairfield Michael Tortora claimed that the University never made such a request.
“In other words, ABM’s decision to change the schedule has apparently other reasons different from a demand from Fairfield U as a customer,” Gil-Egui said.
Huber also noted that members of the janitorial staff are employed by ABM, a subcontractor. According to Huber, “When Fairfield University opted to subcontract some of the services years ago, many in the community expressed concern that the administration would wash its hands of labor issues regarding the subcontractors, but the administration unequivocally stated that they would uphold equitable and fair practices in keeping with our Jesuit mission.”
FWC wrote a letter to Tortora expressing concern over what they felt to be an unjust change in shift for the janitorial staff.
The FWC also sent a letter to the local management of ABM expressing the concerns of the custodial staff and the campus engineers and mechanics at the end of October, and ABM responded that they would change the start of shift time to 9 p.m.
Another issue in the labor force on campus lies within the fact that the University has begun to outsource for contractors to do jobs that, according to Huber, “could be done by salaried maintenance staff.” She added that hiring outside contractors is more expensive, but the University chooses to do so anyways.
In addition, according to Huber, “Maintenance staff members have reportedly been called in to fix jobs done incorrectly by these outside contractors,” showing that these it would be easier for the University to simply give this work solely to the maintenance staff, because it’s less expensive and more efficient.
However, both Huber and Preli noted that the most concerning aspect of both issues is the lack of communication between President von Arx and the janitorial and maintenance staffs.
“Fairfield University should feel a commitment to its staff and those that have given years of dedicated service to our institution and should sit down and negotiate these concerns in good faith,” Preli said.
Huber added that “Father von Arx should sit down directly with representatives of both unions and workers on campus to discuss their specific concerns. He should also work with administrators to take a leadership role and make workers on this campus a priority in the vision of Fairfield 2020.”
The Mirror contacted Father von Arx for a statement, but he was unable to comment because he was out of the country.
Preli added that this goes against the Jesuit principles that the University prides itself upon.
Huber agreed, saying that “respect for labor is a key Catholic and Jesuit value, one that Pope Francis shares.”
Overall, the workers feel they need to have “respectful and open conversations that grant workers who have given years of service to this community the dignity of being included as full members in that community,” Huber said.
Preli added that “The staff are members of our Fairfield community and what impacts them, impacts us all.”
The Mirror reached out to several janitors in the process of writing this story, but they chose not to speak for fear of losing their jobs.