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UT Austin Vice President Patricia R. Clubb provides review of custodian concerns outlined in anonymous letter

Patricia R. Clubb, vice president for employee and campus services at The University of Texas at Austin, has investigated certain points raised in a recent anonymous letter, disseminated across campus, which purported to be from certain employees in the Department of Physical Plant custodial ranks.

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AUSTIN, Texas Patricia R. Clubb, vice president for employee and campus services at The University of Texas at Austin, has investigated certain points raised in a recent anonymous letter, disseminated across campus, which purported to be from certain employees in the Department of Physical Plant custodial ranks. Below please see a list of issues raised, along with the results of Clubb’s review:

  • Work hours and meal breaks: The work schedule for the evening custodians in the Physical Plant is Monday-Friday, 5:30 p.m. through 1:30 a.m. (which covers 7 1/2 hours work and a 30-minute paid meal break). The University currently is not planning on changing the work schedule eliminating the meal break. Providing a 30-minute, paid meal break is above industry practices.
  • Sick leave and vacation use: There is not a general practice of asking employees for a doctor’s note after being out for four hours or more. However, for an employee who has had an attendance problem, according to University policy, each supervisor has the discretion of requesting documentation in certain instances, which could include a physician’s statement or a written note from the employee regarding the sick time. A note is required when sick leave extends beyond three days.
  • Number of workers: Basically, we have moved from 485 full-time-equivalent custodians in the Physical Plant in 1985-86 to 345 full-time-equivalent custodians in 1999-2000. The reasons are increased efficiency, outsourcing, transferring the recycling function, and several positions being eliminated to provide funds for salary increases.
  • Custodial supervisors question plans for use of vacation/compensatory time: Consistent with Physical Plant practices, custodial supervisors are trained not to question employees about their vacation or compensatory time usage in terms of where they may be going.
  • Use of certain cleaning solvents: It is not our practice to mix together the cleaning solvents cited and the University provides training to all of the appropriate staff on the safe use of various solvents. In an effort to respect the concerns expressed and to be absolutely confident that there is no potential risk, the Physical Plant has suspended the use of the solvents in question and has requested that the Environmental Health and Safety Office on campus review the situation.
  • Pace of cleaning: As we have increased our efficiency, we have also increased performance expectations. These expectations fall well within industry standards and are comparable to the work load in this area maintained by other colleges and universities.
  • Vacuums on backs: Our staff uses ergonomically constructed, portable, 11 pound vacuums. The vacuums also fit industry standards and are used by many cleaning organizations. The University provides training for the proper, safe, and comfortable use of this equipment. If necessary, the Physical Plant works with individual custodial employees regarding the use of alternative methods.
  • Intimidation and threats: The Physical Plant is unaware of, and would certainly not condone, the use of threats or intimidation by supervisors in the custodial ranks. If such threats were ever to occur, employees have several options including visiting with a higher level supervisor and/or raising their concerns with the employee relations section of the Office of Human Resources.
  • Signing a form to indicate that a university communication was received and understood: In order to enhance communication with the staff, custodial services has routinely asked staff to sign that they have received important briefings and notices from the department. Usually a copy of the communication also is given to the employee. No discipline is taken if an employee does not sign.

Clubb said other items noted in the review process include:

  • The salary increase for Physical Plant custodial workers averaged in excess of 9 percent beginning Sept. 1, 2000.
  • Custodial workers have an 8-hour schedule, which includes 7 1/2 hours of work and a 30-minute paid lunch period.
  • Custodial workers are provided job-related and personal development training (English as a Second Language and General Education Development) during work time.
  • Every year, each custodian is provided a $50 pair of safety shoes and all are provided uniforms (and their laundering) by the University.
  • The Physical Plant makes every effort to instill a management style that emphasizes self-respect, equity, dignity, and support.
  • The University is aware of the critical work performed by its custodial staff and the value of these services to the operation of the institution.
  • The Physical Plant newsletter called the Physical Plant Focusfrequently recognizes the accomplishments of its staff, including the custodial staff. The Physical Plant has a quarterly recognition program attended by all staff.

If you are interested in learning more about the accomplishments of the physical plant custodial workers, please visit the physical plant Website at http://www.utexas.edu/business/plant