Ben Walker in black shirt and white background

Last month, I was invited to my daughter’s middle school to participate in a snapshot of her daily routine — something I look forward to as a father. These always serve as a reminder of something that I learned when I was her age. For example, in her humanities course, we learned about Eleanor Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was a passionate civil rights advocate throughout her lifetime. She was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Truman in 1945. Shortly after, she became the first chairperson of what would become the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She also became an influential force in drafting the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), laying the groundwork for the International Bill of Human Rights, which became an international movement almost 30 years later.

The importance of the UDHR is that it is a commonly accepted international document which outlines 30 distinct individual rights for every human being. The document is not legally binding in and of itself, but it has been used as guidance for international laws, peace treaties and national social codes for nearly seven decades.

At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with the modern challenges facing custodial managers. Article 23 of the UDHR is a very important section as it outlines the human rights of workers. I was particularly struck by No. 3:

“Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.”

The universe must have been in perfect alignment that day. As I was leaving the school, I received a phone call from a colleague who told me a story about the recent strife concerning the custodians in her office. The issue centered around a new policy that had been enacted asking custodial staff and the grounds crew to use a separate break room from the office people. The only other established break room was a makeshift kitchenette that had originally been a storage closet, on a lower floor, away from everyone.

This new policy resulted in a divided office and escalated to the point of C-level executives holding an all-hands meeting to explain that everyone in the building had a right to use break areas, regardless of position, job title, shift or duty.

We closed the conversation — her laughing at the absurdity of it all, me shaking my head knowing that this wasn’t an isolated incident.

I’m well aware this is a drum I beat loudly and often. I used to think that shining light on the issue frequently and openly would advance the mission. But perhaps we need to take it a step further and make our own declaration.

I don’t possess the level of hubris that it would take to compare myself to Eleanor Roosevelt. However, maybe we can learn from her example and start there.

Custodians are entitled to the same freedoms, rights and privileges as other building occupants. They are entitled to a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Custodians are not invisible and are entitled to a safe working environment. They deserve competent, compassionate management and are entitled to professional-grade tools and equipment. Regardless of ethnicity, language spoken, income, intellect or ability, custodians are human beings and deserve to be treated as such.

This isn’t a call for special treatment. Rather, it’s a simple request to be treated with dignity and equity. 
BEN WALKER is the Director of Business Development for ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA’s best selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks.