UF employees fight switch to night shift
Jenny Brown
April 2000

About 400 UF workers will have to switch to a night shift, if the university implements a plan currently under discussion. About 80% of the custodial employees in the university's Building Services Department would be permanently required to work 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., if UF gets its way. The workers' union, AFSCME local 3340, has been fighting the change. According to a union survey, 88% of custodial staff oppose the switch to nights, because they say it will disrupt their child care, transportation, and sleep schedules. AFSCME is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents permanent non-management staff at UF.

In a letter to Interim President Charles Young, the union said that this night shift schedule, "would also put a severe strain on marriages and families" and that it would place predominantly female workers in empty buildings in the middle of the night.

The university claims that the move would increase productivity, saying that they expect workers to clean an extra 4,000 square feet a night. But Alberta Hopkins, the union's vice-president for the operational unit, said that in return they aren't offering any more pay to the employees. "We're already underpaid," Hopkins stated, noting that starting pay in these full-time positions is $12,800 a year.

Local union president Sharon Bauer stated: "While management has projected increased productivity through implementation of the night shift, research shows a decline in productivity due to circadian rhythms and a chronic lack of satisfying sleep during the day."

Hopkins described the strain it has put on the 30 or 40 employees who have already been shifted to nights in an experiment by UF. "By the time the kids come home from school it's time for [the worker] to go to bed. I know so many people who are so unhappy" because of the change, she said. "It disrupts the arrangements people have made for their jobs, childcare, and disrupts their lives."

Because the pay is so low, most workers have a second job to make ends meet. The threatened shift to night work has made many employees wonder how they are going to be able to juggle their lives for this new schedule.

The government's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends against night shifts, citing the physical effects of night shift work. "They recommend against permanent night shifts because of the effects on employees and their families," said Bauer in a recent interview. Among the health effects cited by the government are gastrointestinal distress, increased accidents and isolation. "So they recommend against night shifts except where it's required, such as cases of 24-hour services," Bauer said. Custodial services at UF can be done at any time, and have been done during the day for decades.

Bauer said the union has presented these recommendations to Building Services' management, but the department is still pursuing the plan. "But we're going to win," Hopkins said, "I know we're going to win. We just have to stand up and not be afraid."

UF has stated that the "customers" (meaning the office staff and instructors who work in campus buildings) had been surveyed and that they wanted the cleaning and maintenance to be done at night. But union members who asked around found out that there had been no such survey, Hopkins said. "We found out that it's not, as they said, the customers who are asking for this."

"The university says ...that they want their custodial services to be provided 'transparently.'" said Bauer. "In other words they want this group of employees, this class of employees to be hidden, rather than embraced by the university community."

Citing the recent campaigns at many universities to stop universities from buying apparel from sweatshop manufacturers, Bauer stated, "If students don't want to wear clothes made in sweatshops, they don't want to learn in rooms cleaned under sweatshop conditions."

In a letter to interim UF president Charles Young, the union stated, "Despite our efforts to educate the managers of Building Services about these issues, they remain committed to a move adversely affecting hundreds of workers, mostly African-American women, in the lowest pay grade ...while simultaneously banishing them to invisibility on campus. This move not only harms workers but could seriously damage UF's reputation."

The union has asked to meet with President Young to present their case.

The Director and Assistant Director of UF's Physical Plant Division could not be reached for comment.

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