Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Service in the City: Cleaning Staff

Continuing the Service in the City series, today we'll be talking to Marge who works for an office cleaning company. Surely you didn't think your garbage can was emptied by helpful elves?

Q: What is your typical day like?

Marge: Well, let's see. I get home at about 1:30 in the morning, depending on the schedule. By 3:30 - 4 am, I'm asleep. I usually have to wake up my sixteen-year-old, but sometimes I'm just too tired. Usually 2 - 3 days of the week, I get him up, but usually I'm up by 10 - 10:30 am. Then it's coffee, and I have sons, so there's always something to clean up. But first there's the coffee, then I feed my cat, and clean up my kitchen. After I go upstairs and straighten up. I have to fix my bed, even if it's to lie down for a few minutes more I need to straighten up my room.  Then I start cooking around 12—I don't cook every day, I used to but now it's 3 or 4 days. Then I take my shower, get ready, and head to work. I get here at around 4:30. I'm coming from Staten Island, so if the bus is late, then sometimes I get here at about a quarter to [five].

I can't eat early, so when I get here I eat. That's my breakfast—a sandwich, soup, something. I have a cigarette. I'll go change after, get my things ready and we come up at about 5:30 and we start. I cover the 9th and 6th floors. I also do the 5th, 8th, 2nd, 3rd—I have to have the 3rd done by 8:30 so I can give the freight elevator back to the porter—then I go the 25th, which is a small floor, and then I move to the 18th, 19th, 13th, 7th, and then finally the 14th. By then it's about 10:30 to 11:00 at night. We'll take a short five or 10 minute break and have coffee or tea. By 11:15 the entire staff is back and we eat dinner. From there, at about ten to or five minutes to midnight, we go downstairs and change back into our regular clothes. And by 12:15 am, we head home. And it's crazy. It's hard.

Q: What is the most challenging issue you face relating to work?

Marge: Well, there are a lot of inconsiderate people here who don't appreciate what we do. Some people, not most but some, think we're nothing because of our job. There are neat people who sometimes make a little mess, and they say, "I'm sorry, I was busy," and so on. But some people say, "Well, it's your job, so deal with it." We're not no one's personal maids. We work for a company; we're doing a job. We're here to clean, but some people have it in their minds that it's our job and they just take advantage. [Right: Marge's cleaning cart.]

My main problem is the restrooms. We've had different companies, and this company has decided that we—women—have to clean the restrooms. This has been a man's job in the past. I've been doing this for 24 years, and for 21 or 22 years, men cleaned the bathrooms. And that changed the whole game. The things people expect us to do—excuse me, you're a human being, so if you use the toilet, then flush it. Or if you use a pad or tampon, then wrap it. We're disgusted by a lot of what we see. We're like, "What is wrong with human beings?" We're trying to do a job, but come on.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Marge: About 75% of the tenants, well, we've been here a long time, and they get to know us. Any little thing it's "Hey, how's your day?" "Hey Marge, how are you? How's your family? How's your back?" They care. So 75% of the people in the building are very nice—very understanding, very generous.

Q: Given that your job requires you to interact with so many people on a daily basis, you likely see all sides of people. So what piece of advice would you offer them if you could?

Marge: We're all human beings, and we all have our ups and downs. But it doesn't cost a dime to say, "Hi, how are you?" It doesn't cost anything for a smile or to say something nice. We're all human, and we should be treated like we are. It really doesn't cost anything.

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