NEW WESTMINSTER, BC – Last week CUPE 409 President Marcel Marsolais, joined by members who work as custodians, spoke to School District 40’s Operations Policy & Planning Committee about the detrimental effect of custodial service cuts and underfunding.

The local called on the board to immediately restore the full-day custodian position at New Westminster Secondary School (NWSS), noting that underfunding has led to staff shortages throughout the district.

Marsolais pointed out that custodians don’t just clean schools. “They also provide safety and security to the school and buildings.  That’s the definition of ‘custodian’. The services and support they provide to students and staff go well beyond cleaning.”

CUPE 409 members told personal stories that revealed a system at the breaking point. Brian Galbraith, a custodian with 16 years’ experience, described the impact of a 30-per-cent loss of custodial staff has had on school cleanliness. The undue hardship on remaining custodians, he said, includes exhaustion and overwork.

“The students, the staff and the people who use these facilities deserve better. They deserve to come to a clean, safe and healthy school,” said Galbraith.

Another long-time custodian, Bill Reed, who has been with the district for 13 years, talked about the ongoing challenges at NWSS – a school with 2,000 students, approximately 200 staff, and not enough custodial staff.

“When you’re leaving here at the end of week and you feel mentally you haven’t been able to do your full job – because we’re a conscientious bunch – it just doesn’t feel right,” said Read.

Two NWSS teachers spoke in support of CUPE 409, praising the hard work and commitment of custodians and confirming the negative impacts of custodial cuts on students and teachers.

Marsolais said that K-12 cuts and underfunding have been going on for decades, with custodial services taking the brunt of the cuts. He said he was disappointed with Superintendent Pat Duncan’s response that the Board will wait to see what the new director of facilities will do in January. 

The Board moved to a centralized funding process several years ago when they discovered that department-based budgeting didn’t work.

“They should be directing maintenance management to seriously look at reinstating and restoring these positions,” said Marsolais. “They must ensure that the reduction of 48 hours of custodial services per day since 2009 are reinstated, and that custodians on leave are replaced for the entire shift.”

CUPE 409 will continue to lobby the elected School Board as well. In the meantime, CUPE Research will be doing a survey about the crucial work of custodians in sustaining the education sector.  The comprehensive survey will look at issues including workload, general working conditions, and health and safety. Research will release a report when the long-term project is completed.

Read more in the New Westminster Record here.