With hygiene and disinfecting more important than ever, Berkeley High School (BHS), like much of the state, is facing a custodial staff shortage. According to Jeffrey Snow, facilities and operations manager at BHS, there are currently 15 night custodians and one day custodian at BHS.
Some BHS custodians feel overworked and under supported during the return to in-person school.
“It’s too much work and we don’t get any reward,” said Casey, a custodial staff member whose name has been changed for privacy reasons. “They don’t pay us more and make us work double.”
With the world slowly returning to normal, some custodians and other essential workers are pursuing more stable jobs that have greater dependability, safety, and better pay.
This is reflected at BHS regarding the situation of the custodial staff shortage. Many janitorial workers have grown tired of the vandalism that adds to their work, like the recent ‘Devious Licks’ challenge. This trend on TikTok promoted stealing items from school and then progressed to detaching doors from bathroom stalls and clogging toilets.
A couple of other examples include graffiti found all around the campus. This adds to the work custodians already had to perform to clean up after students, such as cleaning drawings off of desks and picking up trash around the campus.
“Students think vandalism affects management and the district, [but] it really affects us,” said Alex, another custodian whose name has been changed. “We are the ones who have to clean up after them and work harder. It’s not fair.”
In acknowledgement of the strain being put on essential workers, many teachers are trying to help lessen their workload where they can. Some clean up as much as possible. Others try to erase drawings off of desks when they can, such as Carlos Poma Morales, a Spanish teacher at BHS.
“I want my students to have clean desks. Because there aren’t that many [custodial] staff, we [teachers] try to help them out whenever we can,” Morales said.
This labor shortage is something the nation as a whole has been experiencing. With more and more essential workers quitting the workforce, this phenomenon has been nicknamed ‘The Great Resignation.’ Over 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August of this year alone. As people continue to quit, the unemployment rate in the United States is surging.
Aside from the shortage, custodial staff also say the district is not providing them with what they require in order to carry out their services properly. One particular issue that has become more relevant recently is the lack of raincoats for staff members. Since the trash dumpster is located at the side of the school, workers have to walk there in the rain while the trash they carry gets soaked.
“We feel very abused and disappointed because we feel like they can call people to help us but instead they don’t,” Casey said.
Additionally, given that workers already have to do more, if any one worker is absent, the responsibility falls on the other staff members to make sure their sections are covered as well, in the same amount of time.
The shortage is also affecting the sustainability of the custodians’ work. Often when recycled waste is thrown away, most if not all of it goes into the trash, and some custodians try to sort everything into the proper bins.
“I personally try to help with the planet and with the Earth, but my old supervisor said I do too much,” Casey also said.
With these issues going on, many workers around the United States are asking for more help and better pay.
On October 8, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed record legislation dedicating $123.9 million to kindergarten through grade 12 education. However, this funding only goes into effect in 2025.
Using the passing of the new bill, the district could receive increased funding in the future to hire more classified staff at BHS and other schools in the district, including custodial staff.
Hiring more staff would reduce the workload of each custodian at BHS. It would also allow custodians to prioritize aspects of their work such as separating out landfill, compost, and recycling to increase sustainability at BHS.