Dirty jobs: A day in the life of campus custodian crew

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Every morning around 1:30 a.m. while some are fast asleep or just getting into bed, Isaias Hernandez wakes up to a quiet home and prepares to drive 22 miles to work.

He arrives at Cal State Fullerton at 3 a.m. or earlier, enters his office, checks his voicemail and begins his work as one of CSUF’s lead custodians.

He walks over to the three buildings he oversees Steven G. Mihaylo Hall, Langsdorf Hall and University Hall ready to get to work.

Every now and then, Hernandez stumbles upon a student sleeping in the lobby of Mihaylo Hall and pauses in confusion as to how they arrived and entered before him.

He continues with his duties and as the cleaning begins, so do countless surprises and everlasting stories.

Roughly 60 people work under custodial services on campus, a department that is overseen by manager Terri Thompson.

All custodians are assigned permanent buildings to work on, where they do a variety of duties that range from cleaning restrooms, offices and classrooms.

Vacuuming, mopping, taking out the trash and window cleaning are just a few of the tasks that custodians perform daily.

Many times, the cleaning goes past these common duties because of surprises left by students around campus out of either carelessness or foolish fun.

Restrooms are some of Hernandez’s least favorite places to clean because of the mess left by students.

“Feces on the walls, feces all over the toilet—that is done on purpose after they do what they need to do. I mean they get something just to smear it all over the place,” he said.

“You see throw up, you see feminine napkins just thrown on the floor, graffiti, sexual favors being offered through what they put on the bathrooms.”

Hernandez said that most of these students are already over 18 years old and know better, yet they do things that kids who wouldn’t know any better would do.

He said that students should be considerate because after all, it is their university.

Hernandez said he works his shift, then goes home. Ultimately, it’s the students who spend the most time on campus and have to deal with these things.

Thompson said she has noticed that these acts are done most often around finals week.

During finals week last year, one of the custodians walked in on someone urinating in a classroom and people were also defecating in the stairwell.

“I think it would be really nice if they would just think before they do something like that, because somebody does have to clean that up. And to be respectful of the property that’s around here because we get a lot of damage,” said Thompson.

“They pull dispensers off the walls and graffiti, that takes a lot of time to clean up.”

In total, custodians are responsible for cleaning 2.5 million square feet, a task that requires work from at least 100 custodians to be done efficiently.

Over the past few years, due to budget cuts, and after several people have retired or resigned, custodial services has been left with positions unfilled.

As a result of this, the 60 remaining custodians are left with extra work which at times makes it difficult for them to keep the campus as clean as they would like it to be.

The service center offers a hotline that anyone who sees a spill, or mess that needs attention can call right away.

Custodian Daniel Clavel, who starts his work day at 3 a.m. and takes his lunch break at 8 a.m., said that it would be beneficial for everyone, including students, if they called the hotline to report these messes or problems.

Despite challenges faced, custodians take pride and find enjoyment in what they do.

Clavel said that he believes a lot of the success is due to the people that are hired.

He said that they have the right crew and knowing that his name is behind everything that he does gives him that much more motivation and incentive to put 100 percent into his work.

Clavel also said that he loves working in the university setting because he has always enjoyed doing things for others and considers himself a public servant.

“I just love what this does for people. It’s a learning environment and it’s building character in people, building businesses, managers, owners and also it’s giving back to the community,” he said.

Every minute and every task counts for custodians at CSUF as they work hard everyday to keep the campus clean and presentable for students and staff.

They take pride in their work and know that what they do is not only a job that needs to be done for sanitary reasons.

But also because it is essential in shaping the way that visitors perceive the university.

“If you see custodians, say hi, say thanks. They are underappreciated in a lot of ways, but they’re a great bunch of people, great group of people, just doing the best they can trying to feed their families, take care of their families, just like everybody else,” said Thompson.

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