Bijeta Lamichhane

News Editor

Samuel Boudreau

Senior News Writer


On Feb. 9, the Voice received a letter from members of the custodial staff that described their feelings and experiences during the pandemic. One member of the custodial staff told the Voice, “There are different people in custodial that would like to say stuff, but we’re afraid of being punished or losing our jobs. We feel more comfortable anonymously writing a letter.” While the Associate Director of Custodial Services Scott Sauerbrei said that this claim is “completely false,” the grievances listed by the custodial staff will remain anonymous.


As exposure and spread of COVID-19 in Wayne County remains high, the letter received by the Voice noted that “custodians at The College of Wooster used to be happy, used to love coming into work,” but now “we feel alone, unhappy; some of us even have panic attacks, and have to get anxiety medicine.” 

Before the pandemic, the 38 members of the custodial staff at the College were solely responsible for cleaning residence halls, the Lowry Student Center, the Scot Center and academic buildings on campus. However, since the pandemic began, the College has now hired 24 additional cleaning members from ABM Industries, a facility management provider that specializes in cleaning academic and administrative buildings, to support the need to increase the frequency of sanitizing spaces on campus. The staff has had to adapt to several changes in how they operate every day since COVID-19 began. These changes include working in different buildings and regularly changing work partners, which has been a major source of concern regarding their safety.

In their letter, members of the custodial staff wrote, “We would always get to pick a dorm to clean all year … sometimes multiple years … what partner we wanted in our dorm or if we prefer to work alone. [It’s] how it has always been.” Addressing the new changes, custodians mentioned that they have “tried to say many times that we feel unsafe, we feel uncomfortable, we don’t want to switch shifts or dorms.”

When the Voice staff reached out about these issues, Associate Vice President of Facilities, Design and Construction Mike Taylor acknowledged these concerns and provided an explanation. “We need the flexibility to move custodial support to any place on campus to support the needs of campus,” Taylor said. “Many gaps were identified early in the pandemic when it was necessary to move custodians across campus to work. We felt it was very important to cross-train. Custodians are now able to easily work across the campus and are not limited to just the area they predominantly worked in previously, which in turns provides greater flexibility to address the many needs across campus as we navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, we also avoid overburdening one custodian [in the case that] another custodian is off due to an appointment, medical leave, isolation/quarantine, vacation or other needed time away.” 

The letter also mentioned that after being furloughed earlier in the summer, many custodians could not return to work when they were asked to return due to changes in the work schedule. The College has also eliminated the first shift from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. to focus on cleaning the campus when the majority of the activities are taking place. Due to this elimination, some of the College custodians who originally worked the first shift could not return to work as they did not have the flexibility to change their daily schedules. “We got hired for certain jobs, certain hours. … To mess a family up like that is horrible,” the letter read.

The changes in the custodial staff’s work environment were also exacerbated after the College hired the new cleaning members from ABM. Members of the staff claim that ABM employees were given the first shift from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., while people on the shift from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. “either got fired or were made to move to the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.” The letter continued, “the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift lost people [as] they pulled some people to move to the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. Since everyone can’t change their life like that, they were let go, some of whom were here [over] 10 years!” 

In response, Taylor provided a reasoning as to why the first shift was eliminated and they hired another cleaning crew. “The elimination of that shift required that we reschedule certain custodians to other shifts that were necessary to cover the activity on campus safely,” he said. “It was also determined it was important that custodians of various cleaning experience levels be distributed between the two needed shifts from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.. We communicated this to all custodians as a temporary change based on the cleaning requirements during pandemic. All custodians were encouraged to discuss their individual concerns with Human Resources.” 

Regarding ABM, Taylor stated that, “ABM is supplementing our current custodial work force. An analysis was done to meet the CDC cleaning guidelines and we were short 20 custodial positions.” He continued, “We didn’t have enough folks to be able to keep up with the CDC recommendations, so rather than force our staff to work 10 or 12 hour days [for] six or seven days a week, we didn’t think that was the right thing to do for them, or the right thing to do for our college. These people are people and they do have life outside of here.” 

In addition, Taylor noted his relationship with the custodial staff. “I don’t think there’s any custodian that would tell you they don’t have my, Scott’s, supervisors’ and other custodians’ complete confidence that we actually care,” Taylor stated. “We’re not trying to get something off our plate [and] onto theirs [in an attempt to avoid dealing] with it any more. We’re really thinking through what we need to do to support these custodians who support our campus. 

Taylor added, “I can’t think of one custodian I couldn’t go to right now — or their leadership — [who] wouldn’t be very positive about their experience working on this campus under the circumstances that we’re in.”

Taylor made it clear that their “top priority is the safety of the entire campus, that includes custodians as front-line workers.” He said, “We routinely and regularly meet with the custodial staff, individually or in small groups due to the pandemic to explain protocols, provide training and listen to their concerns. Our management staff is charged with daily planning that ensures the needs of all of campus are met while ensuring critical health and safety protocols are met. We actively listen to the custodial staff when they have concerns or questions about custodial responsibilities or other issues or concerns.”

Sauerbrei agreed with Taylor. “I think we [go] above and beyond to support our folks,” he said. “My door’s always open. I always encourage my people to come see me with questions and concerns any time of day. You can call me at home. You can call me in here on the weekend. That’s just part of my job. It’s not just managing the custodial department and trying to be sure that we keep the campus safe, clean and attractive for everybody. But it’s more close-knit than that. It’s a little more personal than that for me and for Mike and for some other of our folks and custodians.”

However, the letter from the custodians contradicted these sentiments. “Scott and Mike Taylor have not asked our opinion, our preferences on how to work, but in the same breath they will say they appreciate us,” it read. “We do hard, physical work. They sit in an office or drive in air conditioning. We use our own gas in our personal vehicle, sweat in [the] summer, and they act or say as if they care but it’s more power to them. They don’t care. People are upset and mad and have actually quit because of the changes to custodial staff. We have to pretend we are okay because they will make it worse on us. We are scared, sad, disappointed. No one is listening to us.”

The custodial staff members also mentioned that they have had to come to work even if they are experiencing symptoms. “They continued to switch us with custodians [until] we started getting sick. Even if we have symptoms, they are making us come to work until we get tested and results come in,” the letter read. 

Taylor, however, has denied these allegations as well. “Our campus guidelines clearly state that no employee should report to work if experiencing symptoms, both for their safety as well as the safety of the campus,” he said when questioned about the accusation. “Concerns such as these should be routed to the appropriate supervisor or directly to HR to discuss whether they should report to work and/or next steps, such as taking a free COVID-19 test.” He also noted that custodians are paid for hours when they miss work due to COVID-19 symptoms.

President Sarah Bolton also noted that the College is “continuing to pay staff fully who are out for illness or quarantine, continu[ed] to pay staff during the spring shut-down even if their roles were not active on campus and providing supplementary pay for those who were needed on campus to support students who still needed to live here during the stay at home order which was in place from March to May.”

Associate Vice President for Human Resources Lorraine Davila Forcinito added that hourly employees who were required to work on campus were provided an additional two dollars per hour throughout May during the Ohio stay-at-home order.

Furthermore, supplies and personal protection equipment were other areas of concern for the custodial staff, who noted, “[The College] switched to a cleaner they said is for the coronavirus, but the ingredients are exact[ly the same] of what we were using before it … they are getting cheaper, buying cheaper supplies.”

However, Bolton told the Voice that “we have sought out and followed the best practices in providing cleaning products and personal protective equipment to our staff, and have recently provided new masks that provide greater than 99 percent filtration and are ASTM III certified.  We searched for these masks specifically with the needs of our custodial and dining staff in mind, as they wanted something that was breathable and easy to work in and that didn’t slip down, while having excellent filtration.” 

Broadly, the letter from some members of the custodial staff allude to a complete disconnect between management and administration, particularly with Taylor and Sauerbrei, and the custodians reiterate the lack of consideration for their safety and well-being.

The custodial letter ends with a simple and clear message: “We want to be happy, to come to work again. It used to be exciting to come to work. Now we all wish we had different jobs.” 

Written by

Chloe Burdette

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