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University Of Washington Janitors Protest Increased Workloads, Low Wages

Manny has worked as a janitor at the UW for three years.  He says he makes about $14 an hour and would like a raise.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
Manny has worked as a janitor at the UW for three years. He says he makes about $14 an hour and would like a raise.

Janitors and custodians at the University of Washington plan to rally in the middle of campus Tuesday. Due to budget cuts, there’s now a smaller cleaning staff to cover the huge campus. Many janitors say they’re being asked to do more with less.


Several janitors gather outside a classroom on the University of Washington's Seattle campus. They’re waiting for a monthly safety training to start.

A 59-year-old Cuban janitor named Manny said he’ll be at tomorrow’s rally. He said he’s solely responsible for cleaning a large, four-story building. And he thinks it’s more than a one-man job.

Manny: “Before that building is two people. Now it’s just one. That’s a little hard work. It’s hard work.”

Manny worries his supervisor won’t like him speaking out, and asked to only use his first name.

Most of the 200-plus members of the UW cleaning crew are immigrants. The union that represents them says workers are required to clean more territory than a few years ago. It wants the university to fill vacant positions, and spread the workload. The union also wants janitor’s wages brought in line with other comparable jobs on campus.

Manny said he makes about $14 an hour.

Manny: "I’m short for money all the time. The rent’s expensive, food’s expensive -- everything you know."

Woodard: “I wish there were a way to grant higher increases for staff. I wish the funding was there.”

Gene Woodard is director of UW's Custodial Services. He said the wages are out of his hands; that’s negotiated between the union and the university.

State lawmakers slashed UW funds during the recent recession. And Woodard admits his crew is still stretched thinner than in the past, and they can’t quite polish up the campus like they used to. It frustrates him.

Woodard: “You know because we’d like the campus to be a showplace but we’re just not at that level.”

But Woodard said even though workers are now assigned larger areas to clean, the tasks are modified to fit in an eight-hour day.

Manny, the Cuban custodian, has another bright idea of how to keep things cleaner: Get the students to pitch in.

Manny: “Oh yeah. They bring coffee, food, they don’t care. And they leave it on the floor, everywhere.”

Here's another idea: Maybe Manny could just tape up a sign that says, "Students: Your mother doesn’t work here.”

Year started with KUOW: 2006