By Elena Chiaruttini
The fact that the Custodial Department at City College has been understaffed for years has become increasingly evident lately. Restrooms are consistently found in poor condition, while mornings often reveal uncleaned blackboards, chairs, and desks arranged based on the previous classes’ preference, rather than being tidied up.
“It’s an overwhelming amount of work,” said Robert Tanega, who has been working as a custodian for the last 20 years and covers the day shift at the Mission campus.
The Mission campus, in particular, has been suffering the worst from understaffing. With the campus measuring 89,000 square feet and containing two four-story buildings, it had been surprisingly managed by only one custodian at a time for the last few years.
“Most of the time, the restrooms on the first floor are really dirty. Except when I arrive very early in the morning when I find them very clean,” said student Glenda Colindres right before joining her evening Child development class. “Also, they are often out of order. The other day, out of five restrooms, only two were functional.”
“Certain areas demand more attention and effort, so it’s not a matter of square footage only,” adds Lupe Sanchez, who has been handling the night shift at the Mission campus for several years.
“The restroom on the first floor is the most critical because it is the most frequently used, while the ones on the other floors tend to stay way cleaner,” said Manuel Saballos, who works as support staff for the Broadcast Electronic Media Arts Department on the second floor. “For instance, the Mission campus often hosts events with speakers on the first floor and they all use that restroom. Additionally, people who are not related to the college, you know, who live on the street, they come in and often use that one,” said Saballos.
“At times, non-students sneak into the restrooms and leave a mess that you don’t even imagine,” said Sanchez. “That, besides being disgusting, leaves me very little time for taking care of anything else.”
Only a few years ago, the custodial situation at the Mission campus was more balanced.
“Before the pandemic, we were a team of five. Gradually, two of them retired, and one got laid off,” said Tanega, “But they were never replaced.”
The two custodians filed a complaint letter to the union in Oct. 2023.
“We had to address this unbearable situation,” said Tanega.
According to data from Service Employees International Union Local (SEIU 1021), CCSF custodians have been understaffed by 20 percent.
Interim Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities, Construction & Planning, Alberto Vasquez, acknowledges the situation and has been actively engaged in efforts to recruit more personnel across all campuses.
“We aim to have 55 custodians across all campuses. To do so, we’re currently collaborating with Human Resources (HR) to hire new staff, hopefully in the next few weeks,” said Vasquez. “That way, we can have at least two individuals per shift at the Mission campus.”
However, the number of custodians in charge would still be lower than before the pandemic.
“I was not in charge before the pandemic and a lot of things have changed since then. This is the best staffing level we can achieve, given our current budget constraints,” said Vasquez.
Despite the good intentions, progress has been slow. The college planned to hire new custodial staff by this time, however, the hiring process is taking time.
“In the next few weeks, we should be able to finally hire the first five people, and later on, the remaining four,” said Vasquez on January 31, 2024. “We are also hiring new plumbers that will be taking care of the restrooms on the first floor this week.”
While the hiring process is taking time, there’s been a slight improvement since the beginning of the year. An additional custodian has joined the Mission campus during the day shift at building B, while the night one is still covered by one custodian only.
“People think being a custodian is only sweeping but it’s more than that.
Many people apply for the job, but there are qualification requirements. There’s a training of six months required here at the college to get the certification,” said Sanchez. “This job is not as easy as it sounds.”