By Brielle Bryan
The College’s Department of Building Services employs senior building maintenance workers who are responsible for cleaning academic and residential buildings. Four workers who wished to remain anonymous have expressed their concerns about the way they have been treated by the College, including discrimination, understaffing and unsafe working conditions.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based upon an individual’s race, color, sex, religion and national origin. In addition to this federal law prohibiting employment discrimination, the College has its own similar policy.
“It’s about respect — you don’t get the respect at The College of New Jersey,” said Worker One.
The Building Services workers belong to the Local 195 International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers union. Local 195, IFPTE American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations has its own zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of employees in the workplace.
The College currently employs 187 workers who are covered by the IFPTE Negotiated Bargaining Agreement, according to Curt Heuring, the College’s vice president of administration.
A major concern among some of the workers is the fact that they are referred to by the College’s administration as “porters,” which is a term that they find to be offensive.
“They like about five or six people working on the academic side (during the day) that they call porters,” Worker One said.
Worker Two described the perception of the word “porters” among some of the building services workers as a “slave word.”
“We’re not porters — a porter is like somebody that hands out tissues,” Worker Two said. “They’ll stand there, hand you tissue, lotion — stuff like that after you wash your hands.”
Both workers expressed that building services workers attempted to meet with the College’s human resources office in regards to the issue, but nothing came out of it.
“I was not aware that the use of the word ‘porters’ is considered offensive by some staff,” Heuring said.
Heuring described the workers’ interpretation of a “porter” to differ from the College’s interpretation.
“A quick Google search of the term ‘porter’ yielded this and many similar descriptions. ‘Porters are often the unseen heroes of a facility. These valued team members clean, but they also help support the image of your facility and ensure that customers, employees and tenants are satisfied,’” Heuring said.
Heuring’s definition was obtained from a janitorial and cleaning services blog. He said that if an individual wished to register an objection to the use of the term, the College’s Administration would be able to give them a different title.
The workers not only find the term offensive, but also feel that they are being discriminated by Patricia Smith, the director of buildings and grounds.
Smith made a comment that Worker Three perceived to be racist while she was interviewing someone for a supervisor position, according to Worker Three.
“(The applicant) called me, he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna take the job, but Patty asked me to come ‘pull the whip out’ on y’all,’” Worker Three said.
Worker One and Worker Three said that they have noticed an increase in suspensions since Smith started working at the College in March 2017. Both workers say that she typically suspends people for something that did not happen on her watch.
According to Worker Four, an African-American worker was sitting down showing coworkers how to fix a vacuum cleaner, and someone told Smith that they had been sitting in lounge chairs not doing anything. Smith told the workers they would face discipline for this incident. However, another caucasian worker who Smith had seen pictures of sleeping on multiple occasions has not seen disciplinary action, according to Worker Four.
“How you go about on somebody (else’s) word, when a supervisor (has) pictures of another worker sleeping multiple times?” Worker Four said.
Worker Three added that when Smith first came to the College, many workers wanted to meet with her. Smith declined to meet with all of the workers at once, which offended many of them.
“Patty doesn’t want us in a bunch,” Worker Two said. “Like you can’t take all of us black people at one time? And that’s how we all feel about that.”
The workers explained another time when they felt Smith looked down on them, specifically when they attended a retirement breakfast for College President R. Barbara Gitenstein.
“Patty was seeing all of the building service workers in the room and she like bypassed us,” Worker Two said. “Ain’t say ‘Hi, cat, dog — nothing,’ and started straight talking to the big people like we didn’t even exist.”
Worker Two said that both Gitenstein and Heuring talked to them during the event, and did not understand why Smith did not do the same.
“It’s like the bigger people don’t know too much of what’s going on here,” Worker Two said.
The workers feel that part of the problem is that there is no line of communication between them and Smith.
“No, she don’t speak to us. She treat us like we’re dirt. I think she’s very prejudiced,” Worker Two said.
Heuring said that depending on its nature, a complaint is usually handled by the supervisor, director or associate vice president of administration along with human resources.
“While I would expect to be notified of any serious, systemic issues, as several hundred employees work in my division, I am not typically notified about routine complaints made by building maintenance workers,” Heuring said.
The workers have also expressed their concerns regarding understaffing to their supervisors, who then reached out to Smith through email, but the workers have not seen any changes.
According to the workers, there are three shifts for maintenance employees. The first shift is from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the second shift is from 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. and the third shift is from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.
The workers said that there is a problem with people calling out of work frequently, and they feel that part of the reason why is that Smith does not handle the schedule properly.
“We’re understaffed,” Worker One said. “It takes a toll on me. It just wears you down — it’s a lot.”
Worker One feels that a lot of people call out for the overnight shift, which is the third shift of the day. She said that there is no one around to clean the academic buildings during the weekend, so that when the night shift workers come in on Sunday night, there is extra work that has to be done.
Worker One also said that the workers were tricked into working the overnight shift.
“They said it was gonna be a trial thing, we was gonna try it out for three months and then after the three month, you know, it was supposed to go back and we’re still here,” Worker One said.
In addition to understaffing, the workers feel that changes Smith wants create an unsafe work environment.
“She’s trying to force team cleaning — you can’t get 15 people in one building to clean one building,” Worker Three said. “It’s like she’s trying to create a hostile work environment.”
Worker One and Worker Three both expressed that they experienced team cleaning twice and they were not given direction on who was responsible for each task. Additionally, both workers said that they would typically be able to stay in one building during the entirety of their shift, but with team cleaning they would have to walk between buildings.
“If you do teamwork that means you gotta leave outta these buildings and walk from building to building and the weather is bad outside and this lady don’t care so you in a no-win situation,” Worker One said.
On top of worrying about the weather, the workers also fear encountering wild animals during the night shifts when walking between buildings.
“When you got a wild fox, you know there’s a lot of chances you’re taking,” Worker One said in reference to a recent incident where she spotted a sick fox on campus. “And not only the wild fox, but then you got human animals too you gotta be careful about. I mean, let’s be realistic, this is a public college.”
According to Article 26A of the Local 195, IFPTE contract, “The State shall continue to make reasonable provisions for the safety and health of its employees during the hours of their employment and will continue to provide appropriate safety devices and equipment for their protection and to provide a reasonably safe and healthful place of employment.”
When asked about the concerns the workers have about Smith, Heuring said, “In fairness to and respect for our employees, the College does not comment upon individual personnel matters.”
Smith declined to comment.
According to the workers, the College’s chapter president of Local 195, IFPTE, Timothy Marsh, is responsible for making sure that the workers’ concerns are expressed to Smith and dealt with. However, some of the workers feel that Marsh does not accurately represent their voice.
“We already complained to Tim,” Worker Two said. “We went to Tim about everything. It’s just like he don’t … whatever Patty says, it goes. It’s like he’s not putting up a fight like at all. We supposed to agree stuff. We don’t even agree stuff. When you in a union, you supposed to agree a lot of stuff.”
Worker Two believes that Smith is fond of Marsh mostly because he does not read the paperwork she gives to him, according to Worker Two.
“When he get in front of me and I put the pressure on him, he’s like, ‘Oh, I didn’t read and I’m sorry and all this,’” Worker Two said. “No, you gotta read everything because she could be saying we’re out of a job, and he doesn’t read it.”
The workers expressed that private conversations they had with Marsh were not kept confidential and that everything they expressed to him would go right back to Smith.
“He’s not a mediator at all,” Worker One said. “He’s a tattletale 100 percent.”
Marsh declined to be interviewed.
According to Steve Pinto, the presidential assistant and election committee chairperson for Local 195, IFPTE, each chapter of Local 195, IFPTE has a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and sergeant in arms. He said that chapter presidents are usually elected and that elections take place every two years.
“Tim Marsh was the vice president and unfortunately, due to the death of the president who was serving, Tim Marsh automatically is put into the position — that is if he accepts it,” Pinto said. “That’s the way the bylaws read.”
Worker Two said that the College’s elected chapter president of Local 195, IFPTE, John Leonard, passed away toward the end of 2017.
Pinto said that any candidate for a chapter position would have to be on the ballot and need only one nomination, as well as a second to that nomination, in order to be elected.
“There is an internal process if an individual feels they are not being represented properly,” Pinto said.
However, when asked about what the internal process is, he did not answer and could not find a colleague to give a more descriptive answer, either.
In regards to the workers’ problems with their union representative, Heuring said that it is not the College’s place to get involved.
“Members of the local union elect their officers and those members can raise any concerns they have about an officer’s performance directly with the union leadership,” Heuring said. “It would be inappropriate for management to get involved in assessing a union officer’s performance.”
Kerri Thompson Tillett, the College’s associate vice president and chief diversity officer of human resources, explained to The Signal that in the case of discrimination, an employee can come to her and file a report. After she is issued a complaint, she would review it to see if it violates the College’s policy. If she finds that it is in violation of the policy, she would then initiate an investigation and provide a report to the president of the College. She added that if criminal charges are involved, the employee is referred to Campus Police.
“Investigations are to be completed within 120 days, but can be extended for an additional 60 days based upon the circumstances of the complaint,” Tillett said.
The workers said that they had gone to human resources with some of their complaints, but never felt that the issues were resolved.
“They treat us like we’re the lowest people at the College because of our job title,” Worker Three said.