In my first real job, I worked for a small morning newspaper. My hours as a reporter were six o’clock at night until two a.m. in the morning. My normal hours were reversed. When everyone else was working, I was sleeping -- or trying to sleep, in full daylight, with the shades drawn in an un-airconditioned bedroom.
So I can partially picture the lifestyle change that hundreds of building custodians on the University of Florida campus will face if the university goes through with its plans to change them from a day shift to graveyard shift.
Now, most of the building custodians come to work around 5 a.m. and leave at 1:30 p.m. In the name of efficiency, the university wants to move about three-quarters of the workforce to an eleven p.m. to seven a.m. schedule. The university believes that the workforce can clean more rooms and sweep more floors if they can do their work when students, faculty and staff are not around.
The custodians and their union are opposed to the plan, which is scheduled to take effect around July 1. Can you blame them? They will have to try to sleep at a time when the heat, the daylight and the noise of normal daytime activities will make sleeping very very difficult. They will be on a totally different living schedule from their working spouse. And they are likely to see far less of their children than they do today.
When I came to UF twenty-four years ago, all the building custodians worked the graveyard shift. The buildings were generally dirty. Some custodians held daytime jobs and were adept at finding places to sleep and goof off on their graveyard shifts. Supervision was difficult. The building lights burned all night long, at an increased energy cost.
When a man named Robert Cremer Jr. became director of Physical Plant about eighteen years ago, one of the first things he did was eliminate the graveyard shift. The change had an immediate positive effect. The deadheads working a second job departed. Morale increased. The buildings were cleaner and we could actually communicate with the people who cleaned our offices. We were human beings to them, and they to us.
As an administrator who took pride in the way our building looked, I liked the new system far better than the old. I could actually help supervise the custodial staff, and they could bring some of their complaints to me for corrective action.
Now we are told that the situation that existed 24 years ago is better than the one we have now. The custodial worker who cleans my current office was moved to the graveyard shift a year ago. I don’t notice that my office is any cleaner. He did a great job in the daytime, and an equally good job at night. But I miss seeing him on a daily basis, and I hope he misses seeing me.
I also hope the university will reconsider. What it is about to do will work a hardship on a lot of very decent, generally underpaid people. If more efficient, this new plan is certainly less humane, and, based on my own experience, I doubt if it will be more efficient, either.