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Custodial staff numbers dwindle as university seeks efficiency

By Katie Taylor
On February 4, 2013

A reduction in Miami University's custodial staff over the past several years has led to an increase in responsibility for those who remain.

Bill Moloney, senior director for residential conference and auxiliary services said last year Miami restructured its program to differentiate maintenance and custodial staff. In addition, the university brought in a consultant to measure the square footage of each residence hall, factor in fixtures and determine how much time it should take to clean each room.

According to Moloney, the university decreased the number of custodial staff members gradually through the process of attrition-not replacing staff members who retire or quit-as opposed to laying off individuals.

Manager of First Shift Operations Don Reed said, as a result, the number of custodial staff members assigned to each building has decreased significantly in the past several years.

"In [2004] we had three senior managers and now I'm the only one left, so I get all three shifts," Reed said.

For him, conditions remain manageable.

"You know, I hear a lot of complaints about the benefits and things, but it's like that everywhere," Reed said. "It's a good place to work. I'm still here, so I must like it."

Others said the cut caused a chain reaction, negatively affecting both staff and students.

According to a Senior Building and Grounds Assistant who has worked at Miami for over 20 years, John Row, who asked that his name be changed to protect his job, the cut has made it impossible for he and his partner to keep their assigned residence hall clean, and its 200 occupants happy.

"There used to be four people that cleaned this building, now there's only two of us, which is crazy," Row said. "We feel bad, I mean we used to vacuum every other day, sometimes every day, and now we're lucky if we do it once a week."

According to Row, though the changes have saved a significant amount of money for the university, and staff members are currently paying the price.

Despite the lack of help, Miami's custodial staff is asked to continue going above and beyond Row said; he feels it may not be worth it.

"If I didn't have so many years here, if I was new here, I would quit," Row said.

Joe Cottman, who began working recently as a building and grounds assistant in Porter Hall recently, said hall size makes all the difference.

"I've only been working here a month and a half, but it doesn't seem to be too difficult," Cottman said. "This is a small building though, I bet larger ones would be a lot harder with only two people working them."

According to Row's partner, Building and Grounds Assistant Jenny Cast, who has worked at Miami for 25 years and also asked that her name be changed, students seem to notice the worsening conditions of the halls and use it as an excuse to continue trashing them.

"It's like [the students] almost do this stuff deliberately," Nunn said. "It's not all of them, some offer to help. [Others] will just walk in front of you and throw something down. To me that's just very disrespectful."

Moloney noted an increasing trend in vandalism.

"We've had some increases in messes and vandalism over the last two or three years, it goes up a little more each year," Moloney said. "It's just a trend we try and educate with our residence life staff."

According to Row, Miami's consultants failed to account for student vandalism when calculating the amount of time needed to clean the residence halls.

Moloney said the consultants' formula has proven to be fairly accurate, though when issues are brought to his attention, they are addressed.

"People always loved the way things were, and we have some of that [feedback] as well, but we try to treat our staff, and work with our staff and get them the tools they need to do the job," Moloney said.

However, Cast said many issues remain, including staff members often having to run to other buildings just to get sweepers or other necessary supplies.

Moloney said Miami is taking steps to improve conditions by utilizing a program introduced in 2010 called Leveraging Efficiencies and Aligning Needs (LEAN), which aims to increase efficiency and, in turn, make staff members' jobs easier.

"Right now, the custodial operations in the residence halls are operating very efficiently; there's no need to cut any more staff," Moloney said. "There is a need, through the LEAN process, to involve our staff more ... now we're looking at how to do a better job of helping our staff do their job better."

Moloney said a LEAN expert was introduced to staff over winter break to kickoff the program.

According to Brian Woodruff, LEAN representative for Housing, Dining, Recreation and Business Services, the program works towards enhancing job efficiency.

"Essentially we want to provide the best experience we can for students, we want to provide great service as efficiently as we can," Woodruff said. "So, [LEAN is] looking at ways to reduce waste, to find smarter ways of doing business."

In providing the most efficient service, Woodruff said LEAN will simplify the work of staff.

"The goal ultimately is that we make the job easier so that it can be done well, more efficiently, allowing people really to be more productive," Woodruff said.

Moloney thanked the custodial staff, and praised them for their hard work and patience.

"I can't give enough praise to the frontline people who are out there doing it," Moloney said. "I'm sure that they're frustrated at times, with how things used to be, and I wish things were like that, but they have high standards and they maintain good quality."

Additional reporting done by Trevor Jordan.

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