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Custodial Workers Are Not Expendable

January 3, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
One way Newt Gingrich is fighting hard for far right-wing votes for the 2012 Presidential Election is to make anti-union claims without bothering to learn exactly what city janitors do on the job and the training they must gain before they become custodial engineers. He caused an uproar when he said that, “In New York City, an entry level janitor gets paid twice as much as an entry level teacher.” But Robert Troeller, president of Local 891, International Union of Operating Engineers, says otherwise.

“An entry-level janitor gets paid $18.13 an hour for a full-time salary of $32,000 annually, which is much less than the salary entry-level teachers earn, while Newt said the salaries were two times as much as teachers.”

But before entry-level janitors earn the whopping annual $32,000 salary, they earn 15 percent less for the first two years on the job before being bumped up to the higher pay scale.
Troeller noted that two organizations ( and researched Gingrich’s claims and concluded that the least credentialed starter teacher earns about 1.4 times as much as a starting cleaner (entry-level janitor), and a starting teacher with a graduate  degree earns 1.6 times as much. Although custodial engineers do earn more than starting teachers (not twice the amount as Gingrich insists), they are credentialed supervisors, not “entry-level janitors.”
Another kink in Gingrich’s armor of reasoning, Troeller noted, is that most custodial workers start off part-time and only after they have received more training and proven themselves on the job do they move into full-time positions. But the transition to full-time work has been beset by budget cuts. Troeller said that because of recent budget cuts, many custodial workers who did work full-time are now working part-time. “We’ve lost about the equivalent of 1,100 full-time custodial workers due to budget cuts.”
Troeller was astonished when he first heard Gingrich say that children could do the jobs of custodial engineers, which shows his profound disregard for child labor laws.

“It’s an absurd proposal. These are the jobs that adults do to earn a living to clothe and feed their families. How would it benefit society by laying off custodial workers,” asked Troeller.  
Troeller’s second reaction to Gingrich’s statements was that he couldn’t imagine a presidential candidate in 2011 would actually be advocating for the elimination of child labor laws. “To suggest that child labor laws are partly responsible for income disparity is another ridiculous statement.”  
Troeller is certainly not opposed to children developing a work ethic, but “I am opposed to laying off adults from their jobs that provides for their families.” He noted that the work cleaners, handyman and boiler operators do is not the type of work anyone, except Gingrich maybe, would allow children to do. He also mentioned that there are training programs via the Department of Education that teach students for a career in facilities management after high school, but the work they do is under proper supervision.
He explained what it takes for a custodial worker to enter the ranks of custodial engineers. For starters, a custodial engineer needs several years of supervisory experience in facilities management and building operations, and even before an entry level janitor can complete a routine on his own, he or she first has to be trained on the proper use of applying cleaning chemicals and testing in-door air quality.
“You definitely don’t want children nearby when highly toxic chemicals are being applied.”
If custodial workers want to strive for more challenging mechanical work, they’re required to be certified to perform work on large air compressors, oil burners, air pollution controls and refrigeration.
Often overlooked, said Troeller, is that while school staff such as teachers and others have the opportunity to relax during summer or vacation holidays, custodial workers work harder than normal.
“Custodial workers are of course expected to use the vacation days they have accumulated during the year, but during school closings, they actually work harder because that’s the opportunity to do the heavy-duty scrubbing, stripping and waxing to prepare the school for re-opening.”
By some accounts, Gingrich may rebound in the upcoming Iowa caucus. But Troeller, just as exasperated by interview’s end said, “To suggest that laying off more people during this economic time, is a very strange position for somebody running for president to recommend as a solution to any of our problems.”

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