Members of the university custodial staff are upset with university administrators, accusing Physical Plant managers of unprofessional behavior, disrespect, unfair timekeeping practices and neglect in handling their complaints.
Custodial worker Gerald Smith has been at Florida A&M University for more than 25 years. He alleged that in recent years, management has been increasingly rude to employees. Smith said supervisors have called the workers “a bunch of monkeys” and used the “N” word toward them.
“The biggest thing is disrespect. Plant Operations and Maintenance don’t treat workers with respect, or even as a human being,” said custodial worker Ken Staten.
Staten accuses managers of purposely trying to agitate the janitors. “Management are big liars and they try to sabotage your work,” Staten said. “They’ll do little things to try to slow your work down. They’ll leave excessive trash in areas that I need to come in and clean.”
Staten also said that supervisors try to intimidate their employees and that many workers were afraid to come forward.
On April 15, 2005 janitors noticed a sign on a janitorial door that read: “This is not Burger King, you don’t get it your way. You take it my way, or you don’t get the damn thing.”
The following day, Smith wrote a letter to administrators saying situations like the letter created a hostile work environment, but no one responded. Clarence Stallworth, associate vice president of construction and facilities management, spoke of the hierarchy employees must use when filing a complaint.
“In the custodial ranks, you have the supervisor, assistant director and director of plant operations, and he reports to me,” Stallworth said.
He said problems are dealt with on an individual basis, but the first step is to make sure there is a valid complaint. Smith said the people in the hierarchy have ignored his letters, slammed doors in his face and hung up on him. In a two-week period, Staten said he received 10 to 12 written reprimands. He rebutted all of them, feeling that management tried to portray him as a troublemaker. Staten became so frustrated that he joined the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME is the largest public employee and health care union in the country.
Mary Howard is the vice president and chief steward of the local AFSCME. She said workers file grievances but managers still find ways to “skate around the issues.”
Howard advises union members not to speak with managers without a representative present.
“The way things are now, it’s your word against theirs, and sometimes management is not always truthful,” she said.
Howard said custodial workers are forced to sign blank time sheets. Smith said that workers were threatened with not receiving a check if they did not sign. He said he has not received a copy of his time sheet since 1990.
Smith said he complies with the Personnel Policies and Procedures handbook, but his copy of the handbook was last revised July 1, 1996.
He has not been able to obtain an updated version from the personnel department.
Another major concern janitors have is inaccurate accounts of the time they are allowed to take off. Between 2005 and 2006, Smith was given a reprimand for having 407 hours of “abusive leave.”
He contested the charges after finding that holidays and weekends had been included. Management later rescinded the memo on the basis of “inconsistencies.”
“If you call in and say you’re going to be 10 minutes late for work, they make you use sick leave. I never knew anybody who was only sick for five or 10 minutes, then back well again,” Smith said. “Nobody even listens to us. We haven’t asked for money; we just asked for respect.”
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