August 16, 2000 Dear members of the University of Texas at Austin community and general public: We are the University of Texas at Austin custodians. We need your help. There has been much talk of the problems at U.T.Austin in the newspaper. We want the public to hear directly from us about our issues in Custodial Services of the Physical Plant at U.T. We cannot address our employment issues through the U.T.-Austin grievance process because it sides with management and the University, and makes us more at risk of firing. We have tried and nothing ever changes but more threats of firing. We are being intimidated and threatened by our supervisors all the time. Since the announcement of the sick-out, it has gotten worse. The pressure from the supervisors is causing stress for us. We feel the tension at work and in our lives. It is constant. It will only get worse unless we get help. We work from 5:30 p.m.1 :30 a.m. Some of our supervisors hide in the bushes to make sure we don’t take a 16-minute break or a 31-minute lunch. They make sure that we do not leave at 1:29 a.m. This is frightening in the middle of the night. They are saying that our work hours will soon change to 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m. This is 30 minutes more work with no increase in pay. Something is not right. In many cases our crews have been cut in half. People are quitting to get higher paying jobs. But we are told, “You will do all the work, even if there is only one of you to do it, or you can walk right out the door.” Our job descriptions say one thing but we are told we’ll get fired if we don’t do the work of 3-4 people. One woman cleans 7 floors by herself. Some have said that our staff has been cut from 760 custodians in 1987 to over 300 in 2000. Can they really fire us for doing just our job, not the work of 3-4 people? We have policies that are very different than the rest of campus. When we are out sick for 4 hours or more, we must provide a doctor’s note. If we do not have a doctor’s note, our supervisors make us leave without pay until we get a note. If we do not provide a doctor’s note, we are not even allowed to use vacation time. Flow can the University force us to take leave without pay if we are sick? If we have a severe headache, we cannot go to the emergency room every time and pay $50 to get a note. There are times when the boss should just believe its workers. We cannot afford notes every time our children are sick. We are the lowest paid, yet the separate policies imposed on use are the most expensive for us. Treating us different and like children creates bad morale. Are we not worthy of trust just because we speak Spanish and clean the bathrooms? If we request vacation time, we have to write down what it is for and where we will be. If we miss the first day of the month, our sick and vacation time for the upcoming month is reduced by 1 hour. We are treated like children. If we are out sick or on vacation or personal leave, we are forced to sign a form stating where we were and what we were doing while not at work. This seems like an invasion of our privacy and maybe prejudiced because most of us are Latino. Many of us only speak and understand Spanish. The U.T.Austin handbook of operating procedures is written in English only. This might be why the supervisors can treat us so badly. We are being forced to sign that we understand President Faulkner’s warning letter about the sick-out. Are other employees in other departments being required to sign for this? Why should we sign? Is the University picking on us because of our low pay and skin color? Why are they forcing many of us that don’t underStand English to sign this? Why isn’t information given to us written in Spanish? Some supervisors force us to mix bleach with CSP to perform cleaning duties. The fumes from this cleaning solution burn our eyes, nose and chest. Our eyes and noses are runny all the time. When we report anything, we are told do it anyway or you will be fired. It says on the bottle that CSP can burn the skin and is harmful or fatal if swallowed. The bottle says to use in wellventilated places with the windows and doors open. The swimming pools at U.T. have no ventilation. Two men must spray up the sides of the 18 foot pool while CSP gets in the air. Our eyes are puffy. We breathe it in and risk swallowing it. Our skin burns. We are forced to do team cleaning where every duty is a race 1 minute for the toilet, 1 minute for the sink, 3 minutes for the floor. Our jobs are a race, and no longer about making the University clean and beautiful. People are quitting because we are treated like animals. We must wear vacuums on our backs that weigh about 20 pounds. Those of us that do the vacuuming wear the back pack for 7 hours out of the 8 hour shift. It is heavy, hot, and vibrates on our spines. The vacuum packs are one more way that we are treated like animals. The vacuum packs are humiliating and force us to become the cleaning machine.. We are no longer human, but reduced to burros. We would not he surprised if the University made us wear sponges on our hands and mops on our feet. We are not children just because we speak Spanish. We are not .stupid just because of the color of our skin. We are not animals just because we do the cleaning work that no one else wants to do. We are not invisible just because we work in the night. We are afraid of getting fired by reporting this letter but don’t know what else to do. We ask for the public’s immediate intervention to make our working conditions safe and humane. The University of Texas is a state institution so should have to listen to the public to give us good treatment and safety. Good treatment and safety at work are very important to us. Finally, we are being told the we will be fired if we join with the University Staff Association. Someone was standing outside our 1:30 a.m. staff association meeting the other night, telling people that the meeting had been canceled and that the U.S.A. barbecue had been called off. These actions show that the University is afraid of the custodial workers organizing and making our poor working conditions known. Please help us! Contact us through the University Staff Association, not at work, because we are concerned about retaliation. We sign collectively as, The Custodial Staff at the University of Texas at Austin i. .MIggig,toi,a 1,07.45zu f g4 i tille ,tie l e .k#4 410701,71iMil i ft. ‘4.11MM,67 iled1001/1111111h:ORINigillatiktigetilliotigiellitelfr 71818,0111,147li g l i s iklk ongeh ide ild THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21 SEPTEMBER 8, 2000
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