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Hands That Clean

A look at the behind the scenes cleaning team at Humboldt State

The grand clock on University Center strikes midnight and its sounds rings throughout the courtyard.

Then, utter silence except for the light rustle of leaves as a breeze passes through. If you look closer or step into any building on campus at this late hour, you’ll likely hear the creaking of wheels, the whirring of a vacuum or the brushing of floors as custodians go through their assignments.

Night custodians begin their shift at 5 p.m. and finish at 1 a.m. the next day. The work is grueling, but the team handles it with ease.

“Custodians that work here are hard-working people,” Student and Business Services Custodian Tiffany Swift said. “They run into things everyday that you’re not really prepared for, whether it be a big mess that you have to clean up or certain messes that take up multiple procedures. They work really hard, rarely any questions asked.”

Tiffany Swift is about to set down a wet floor sign after cleaning the women’s bathroom on the first floor of the Student and Business Services building during her shift on a late Monday afternoon. | Photo by Jose Herrera

Swift’s hair is swept into a ponytail and her bubbly attitude holds just as much power as her cart filled with practical cleaning supplies. She became a custodian almost seven years ago, back in 2012.

Swift was in charge of the Student Health Center, but was reassigned to the SBS building. She giggled and said she had a routine down for the last six years doing, “pretty much the same things,” like vacuuming, dusting and keeping the place sanitized.

She added that when she started at the SBS it felt like starting a new job.

“In this building everyone was welcoming, but it was nerve-wracking because I didn’t know where anything was,” Swift said. “I didn’t know anyone. I was so used to knowing everybody by their names, their family members, friends outside, you know.”

Swift said it was cool that she could go to a different building and be treated nicely. She explained that the best part of her day is getting to see people and interact with them.

Labor rights are human rights. That’s why I like contracts, there’s an expectation to be treated in a certain way.

Carly Demant

“The days where I’ve been left with a bunch of love notes is when my whole day is made. Or if I get compliments on my work that will put me in a good mood,” Swift said. “Throughout the day you’ll just feel this bliss, you feel like you want to come in the next day and do a great job or even a better job, when you feel like what you did was good and people notice.”

Science A Custodian Carly Demant usually listens to punk rock or comedy podcasts, but on a recent shift played sad country music while swabbing the floors with a wild mop.

Demant said the job is great and appreciates that the custodians are in a union.

“Labor rights are human rights,” Demant said. “That’s why I like contracts, there’s an expectation to be treated in a certain way.”

Custodian for Fisheries and Wildlife, Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Game Pens Dan Adams shares the same sentiment with Swift, that appreciation and compliments on his work motivates him to do a better job.

Carly Demant throws away the garbage during their shift of the Science A building. | Photo by Jose Herrera

“I found that if you develop a good rapport and effectively communicate with students in your building, and faculty and staff in your building, it makes your job better,” Adams said.

After being in charge of Founders Hall for 15 years Adams has many stories, like the time a bat flew in through a window, or when he caught a couple kissing late at night in a classroom.

Black-gloved hands, breathable trousers and a grey beard demonstrate Adams’ 18 plus years of experience.

Adams said his job consists of constant multitasking, and emphasized a greater work experience after creating relationships with others. Although each custodian spends hours alone in their buildings, there’s teamwork involved in making sure that the cleaning gets done.

According to Swift and Adams, the budget cuts have affected their department, resulting in a shortage of staff. When someone calls out sick, another custodian takes their assignment and their duties become doubled.

“We work good as a team,” Adams said. “Every custodian’s run is different.”

He said that when a custodian covers another’s run they should reassess the approach because each building is different. There might be cracked floors, loose tiles or foot traffic impact and custodians must decide which chemicals to use and how to set up their cart.

By the end of their nights, there are certain expectations that have to be met. Adams and Swift said that keeping their buildings clean and presentable brings a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Ken McDonald cleans a bathroom mirror in Science C at Humboldt State University on Aug. 25. | Photo by Jose Herrera

Swift let out another laugh and said that something might “look terrible the day before,” but after a shift the place looks nicer.

When their shifts end they go home and change gears.

Swift bakes on the side and recently made 300 cupcakes for a wedding. Adams is an avid music fan who likes to relax with loved ones. Demant goes home to their blind dog and roommate.

Ken McDonald, the custodian for Science B and C, has three years working for Humboldt State and said that when his night is up, he looks forward to going home to his 7-year-old son and wife of 10 years.

“I’m a family man. They’re my life,” McDonald said.

One Comment

  1. crs582 crs582 Tuesday, September 3, 2019

    The credit for the pull quote is not capitalized.

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