Working as a custodian during pandemic

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Eugene DSA’s Labor Committee is doing a series of worker profiles, to give a face to the current situation and show how people’s lives are changing. Questions are borrowed from the Working People podcast.

Tell us about what’s been happening with you, your loved ones, your community, your job, your coworkers, your organization, etc.

Within this past month, I’ve seen everything around here consistently change. At work, it’s quite chaotic as contracts and assignments are being shifted around every which way. At home, I haven’t physically seen any of my family or friends. Every time I think I’ve adjusted to the new normal, something else changes. With the news and conditions at work, things are changing simultaneously going very fast and very slow.

What challenges have you been facing during all of this (physical, psychological, economic, social, etc)?

I am a custodian during a pandemic. I have to get in contact with the rest of the building’s coughs, sneezes and other human waste every day. My job’s higher ups are doing what they can in regards to safety, but there’s only so much they can do since a lot of our supply chain has been severed. Even the simple disposable gloves, dust masks and hand sanitizer is more than other workers are getting.

Almost no one at work aside from me and my coworker are taking social distancing seriously. They only recently started wearing masks because they were forced to. But even with the masks, I’ll still see scenes like the security forces meeting in a small room and talking with their masks pulled down pretty regularly. Any attempt to politely remind people at work about social distancing gets met with passive aggressive behavior. Outside work, it also seems like no one is taking this pandemic seriously. It felt to me like people were gone for two days, but now it’s just as busy as ever. I regularly see people with no masks taking walks, having picnics, hanging out with friends or loved ones while I can’t see anyone, especially my mom as she is immune-compromised.

Every now and then, I’ll get a “thank you” from someone at work. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that I am working this job with no hazard pay, no insurance, no benefits and no legal way to unionize. It doesn’t make up for the fact that I’m risking my life every day just for minimum wage. This whole thing has put me in a consistent state of stress. It’s really getting me depressed again.

What do you think people around the country don’t know/understand about people in your situation?

We have to take social distancing seriously. Custodians are exposed to so much contaminants that we have to assume we are asymptomatic and contagious. We don’t get to treat this whole thing like a vacation. We don’t get to go to friend’s houses to “quarantine” for the day. We aren’t out there making quarantine memes on Twitter. We don’t get to travel much further than the beelines from home to work and home to the grocery store. We don’t get the luxury to work at home. Our job is more important than ever. And yet, we have no change to our material conditions.

What are you, your family, community, coworkers, etc. doing to address these (or other) issues? What do you think needs to be done?

Due to other labor issues I’ve had with my job, I’ve been engaging in an agitation campaign with some of my coworkers in my site and others for about a year. This has resulted in turning one of the higher ups into a de facto worker representative who in turn has been convincing the people above them to make work a lot more tolerable to the average custodian on the ground. This has continued during this pandemic.

As for what needs to be done, I think Senator Sanders’ proposal of $2,000 a month would certainly go a long way. If less people are forced to work to survive during this crisis, we’ll all be safer in the long run. Having a cushion to fall on should things with my job get worse would ease my worries at least a little bit.

Final thoughts: Are there any final words you want to share? Any lessons/thoughts you want to share or emotions you just want to vent?

I hope the stay at home workers realize how lucky they are. I hope the petit bourgeois change their views about workers like me. I hope the capitalists are afraid of what we workers may do next. I hope the so-called “left” in the government realize the dangers they’re in if they abandon the working class (which is the most diverse class) in this critical moment. And finally, I hope we can destroy capitalism and end this exploitation once and for all.

Workers of the World, Unite.

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