James Holman, UNC housekeeper and Employee Forum delegate, explains the problems with the OS1 Team Cleaning System:
PRM Consulting Group was retained by the University in March 2011 to assess the climate and culture of the UNC Housekeeping Department. The Facilities Services Department, a division of campus services within the University, manages the housekeeping services along with grounds, building maintenance and other ancillary services. There are approximately 400 housekeeping employees who have the expectation of being treated respectfully and fairly, of working in an environment free from threats, intimidation and harassment, and of being enabled to do their best job for the University.
Unfortunately, housekeeping employees have a difficult time doing their best work due to the ways that they are forced in to working. The department is operating what is known as a “team cleaning” (or OS1) process that reduces the UNC housekeeping employee to a less-than-respected cipher in the system, rather than supporting them as intelligent, hard-working and conscientious employees. This team cleaning system specifies the exact quantities of supplies and the exact techniques that should be used to do each individual task during a work day—and the exact number of minutes it should take to do each task. Worker productivity is evaluated based on adherence to the time and supply restrictions that this system specifies. Problems with team cleaning were mentioned in the PRM report. The problems with team cleaning fall into three broad categories: cleanliness, cost and implementation. With this letter, we seek to more fully outline the nature of some of these problems.
The requirements of the team cleaning system force housekeepers to move very swiftly through their assigned areas, creating unsafe conditions and often doing the minimum amount of work to make the area seem “clean” on the surface; while eradicating the philosophy of cleaning under OS1. Many employees who have been forced to use this system feel that it ignores the basic cleaning techniques that would allow them to produce a good quality of work, making areas safe, sanitary and suitable for the faculty and student populations that we serve.
Currently, team cleaning (as it is being implemented) does not allow time for the amount of proper cleaning that would leave unready to be used again. In dormitories buildings, it does not allow time for the cleaning bathrooms and showers efficiently and effectively, cleaning kitchen areas well, cleaning lounges after 9:15 a.m. student’s populations, changing and refreshing cleaning solutions during the work day, traveling from suite to suite, and traveling from floor to floor when, in some cases, no elevators exist.
In academic buildings, it does not allow time for cleaning classroom boards; for the removal of trash; or for moving, wiping and repositioning chairs, tables and desks in rooms that have been left in disarray, which is used for the student populations. These are not the standards that were promised when OS1 was delivered. Under team cleaning these tasks are considered to be infrequently needed and only marginal in importance. However, they are important according to APPA standards, that are incorporated into OS1 standards and failure to do them results in work that is below the standards required under green cleaning.
The most critical areas where team cleaning is affecting the quality of work are in housing, where employees work from 7:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. in public areas (for instance, lounges and laundry rooms) and from 9:15 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. in assigned area blocks (for instance, bathrooms). They are given only short periods of 3 minutes for certain cleaning procedures.
Some areas in housing are also cleaned once a week with acid-based chemicals that are unsafe to the students and the employees—chemicals that are then disposed of through our drains and into the city sewer system.
Despite the fact that team cleaning was promoted, when it was being introduced, as a cost-neutral process, it appears that this has not in fact happened. Team cleaning requires that the University buy all of its cleaning supplies (cleaners and equipment) from the one vendor who sells the “team cleaning” brand. Employees are hearing that the costs of the system are exceeding what the University used to pay for the supplies and equipment to do the same tasks. The bottom line is that the University has inherited a cleaning process that was never bided upon as State policies has required.
The cost of the team cleaning system combined with the ever-growing number of layoffs of the past several years help to explain the third serious defect of the system: its implementation. Team cleaning is built on the premise that there is a specified number of employees who work together in an area, with each one assigned to do very specific, limited tasks, using very specific techniques and supplies/equipment, within precisely calculated lengths of time for each task—over and over and over again all day. When team cleaning was being originally promoted just a few short years ago, housekeeping employees and the Employee Forum were repeatedly assured that in areas where the system was implemented, there would always be a full team of workers. Otherwise, of course, the system would not work.
Despite these reassurances, the current administrators of OS1 have streamed lined the full effects of the teams. The OS1 administrators of housekeeping have left the operation in areas where team cleaning is used in stress and hardship. To complicate matters more, the current OS1 administrators are preselecting employees to be Managers and Crew Leaders.
We are writing to request that in the process of implementing recommendations in the PRM report, there will be an intervention to discourage all of the restrictive cleaning processes mentioned above. These processes are not working!
- They disadvantage employees who really do want to do their best work in the areas they serve.
- They reduce morale by setting up an environment where employees are micro-managed to the point that they become mere ciphers in a system—all in the name of “efficiency.”
- They are more costly than what they were supposed to be.
- And most importantly, they disallow safe, sanitary conditions. As time goes on, these conditions may cause student discomfort and dissatisfaction, especially in view of the fact that their fees, which are increasing, are supposed to help cover these services.
Ultimately, the team cleaning process has not allowed the University to be a good steward of the tax payer’s dollars. We ask that the team cleaning process be terminated.