Every morning when walking onto campus, it may occur to you how spotless every orifice of the school appears to be. While the majesty of the school’s cleanliness may appear to be like magic, the 65 members of the custodial services provide that amenity to us.
Consisting of 20 Seattle U employees and 45 custodians from the outside contractor of WFF Campus Custodial, these two groups are split based on their significantly different workspaces. The Seattle U custodial staff works specifically in the dorm halls and on-campus living spaces, while WFF works in basically all other spaces on campus.
Human Resources Manager Ruth Donohue states that the application process for the 20 staff members who work in the dorms is much more strenuous than that of the WFF employees. “The Seattle U employees have access to the students’ living areas; we thus conduct pre-employment background checks and reference checks for all Seattle University employees,” she said.
As college graduates enter into the working world, we begin to learn how important unions truly are in many professional environments.
“Our employees do belong to a union, which predates us,” said Donohue. “While the WFF employees do not belong to a union, WFF is responsible for complying with local and federal employment laws which govern overtime, minimum wages and workplace behavior, the same as SU.”
Director of Facilities Steve Szablya, who is now in his sixth year at Seattle U, states that the contract with WFF has checks and balances in it, requiring WFF to pay their employees Seattle U’s living wage ($11.50/hour) and maintain appropriate employment laws. The contract also states how WFF can conduct business on campus; for example, if there are wage increases for Seattle U employees, those increases are passed onto the WFF contract.
“I’ve worked both with unionized and non-unionized facilities, and I know that when employees know that they’re making a fair wage and are heard by their employers, they are generally satisfied,” he said.
Szablya went on to state that the market rate is lower for employees than the living wage for Seattle U employees, and that, among various other factors, causes the majority of the custodial staff to stay here for as long as they like.
“Once these employees come to Seattle U and realize their respectful treatment, they realize a really strong loyalty to the school and become highly engaged,” he said.
As reported by Assistant Director of Facilities Chuck Nerger, the last person hired to the Seattle U staff for Custodial Services was hired five or six years ago. The staff members feel such loyalty to the school and are treated so respectfully that they usually work for the school for up to 30 years. “One of the WFF custodians who worked in Connolly Center recently retired after 12 years here- the Facilities and Athletics departments threw her a huge party,” he said.
Lynn Erickson, who began work in January of 2003 after being laid off from Boeing, is currently the head of maintenance of the Murphy Apartment on campus, along with the Kolvenbach Houses and the Logan Court Townhouses. While Erickson is only now approaching her tenth year at the school, the turnover is very slim. “We have people here who’ve been here thirty to thirty-five years,” she said. “It’s the place to be.”
Each year, the Local 6 union, which the Seattle U custodial staff belongs to, has open meetings in May or June. The contract renegotiation, which occurred last year, continues for four years for both the Seattle U custodians and those provided by WFF.
“All of the people in facilities sit together and bring up things that we want to bring to the university,” she said. “The focus of these yearly meetings is the wages of our employees.”
The benefits available to the Seattle U custodians are tremendous according to Erickson. As a member of Custodial Services, Seattle U offers its employees 15 paid holidays, two-weeks vacation, 12 paid sick leave days and the University pays 10 percent into each employee’s 401K.
However great the benefits are, Erickson says that those are not her main reason for staying on the Seattle U staff. “I love the part with the students, because I’m a very chatty person,” she said. “No matter who comes toward me or away from me, I like to interact; the kids are what makes the job fun. Everybody’s always nice to me, always, and that’s what makes the job fun.”
In terms of what she expects to be doing in the future, Erickson states that she will continue to stay at Seattle U as long as she is able to. “If I didn’t like it here, I wouldn’t be here for ten years already,” Erickson said.
Nerger reiterated the happiness of this Seattle U group of employees. “Contracted WFF employees are treated like any other person who works on campus, and like any other employee of SU,” he said.
Grace may be reached at [email protected]