When Labor Day comes to mind, many think of it as the end of summer: marked by back-to-school sales and the last day of open swimming pools. Its tribute to workers as the backbone of the economy and society comes as more of an afterthought.
There is some debate over who started the holiday (Some believe it to be Peter McGuire, General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, while others think that Matthew McGuire, a Machinist was responsible), But we do know it gained government recognition in 1885, and was passed into national law on June 28th, 1894 by President Grover Cleveland. It is a holiday rooted in the grassroots movement of labor unions. So how have cleaners influenced Labor Laws? The most potent and notable movement started 30 years ago: Justice for Janitors.
Labor Day 2019 was kicked off by unionized janitors in the nation’s capital negotiating contracts on behalf of the highly immigrant-employed industry. These very same janitors also initiated The “Fight for $15” rally cry in D.C., a movement that has gained momentum nationwide. Without the original Justice for Janitors assembly in 1990, these movements would have a significantly smaller platform.
It began as a peaceful strike for the right to organize in Century City, Los Angeles by immigrant janitors, but ended in a barrage of violence against the protesters: resulting in dozens of hospitalizations and 60 supporters of the movement being unlawfully detained. This act of violence against the vulnerable community only stood to strengthen the movement as they regrouped at a nearby park later that day, receiving press coverage of the violence they faced daily. Over the course of the weeks following the incident, public outrage incited its spread. L.A. Janitors won their union and inspired peaceful protests across the country, starting with the nation’s capital. Janitors in Miami used fasting to communicate their message: in wheelchairs from their famished state, they shouted in Spanish “Union or Death”. In Houston, 5,000 Janitors won their first time union contract in a “right-to-work” state, even though the participators of the non-violent demonstrations had their bail set to $20 million dollars for peaceful civil disobedience. By using multiple pacifist strategies, the janitorial labor force was able to succeed in obtaining fair treatment by targeting the real estate industry elites.
Kansas City Public School janitors have followed suit by voting to unionize in 2016. Union workers have addressed the problem of a decline in cleanliness due to under staffing, a problem solved by the formation of the KCPS janitors union. The custodians are now better able to care for the schools as members of the union SEIU Local 1. “My coworkers and I came together on the job so we could have a voice in keeping KCPS as clean and healthy as possible,” said Velma Chapman, a custodian at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.
Labor Day is a holiday to celebrate all workers, but in a post Covid-19 world, front line workers deserve and extra special shout-out. According to NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, “The best way we, in the occupational safety and health community, can honor workers today and throughout the year, is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for every man and woman—young and old alike.” Let’s remember this on Labor Day, and every other day for that matter.
Other special days for cleaners:
National Healthcare Environmental Services Week: September 13th-19th 2020
National Custodian Day: October 2nd, 2020
--Elizabeth Carter, Office Manager at Country Club Janitorial
We’ve all been there: caught in the loop of working to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember how it escalated to this point. Burnout has become so ubiquitous the World Health Organization has classified it as an “occupational phenomenon.” Before you feel complete burnout, learn to identify the warning signs:
If you start feeling one or more of these symptoms, it might be time to reevaluate your work boundaries and lifestyle. Although we frequently think of high workload when it comes to burnout, it’s really only one of six elements. Control, reward, fairness, community and values are the other five. Working too much leads to less socialization and relaxation time, inhibiting your ability to recharge. Lack of supportive relationships and not getting enough personal help are also contributing factors. Certain personalities are more a vulnerable: including Type-A, overachieving or perfectionist personalities.
Your body is designed to recharge and restore itself. When you’re starting to feel the burnout, it is more important than ever to make positive lifestyle choices and practice self-care. For example: the average adult requires between seven to nine hours of sleep. Some may require more or less depending on that person and their immediate need. This is critical: not only to recover from burnout, but also to stay healthy and boost your immune system.
Other healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthy, small meals throughout the day and getting at least 20-30 minutes of outdoor time/exercise also aid in restoring your energy. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as much as you can, as these substances can affect your mood and energy levels. Different personalities also require different types of self care. For an extrovert, being around friends is a good recharge method, whereas introverts refill their cup with much needed alone time.
As an employee, there are a few things you can do to regain control of stress. An article posted in helpguide.org suggests following the three “R’s”: recognize, reverse, and resilience. Recognition is the most critical step and involves a level of self-awareness. If you are prone to feeling burnout (or even if you think you’re not), recognize the warning signs before it hits you at full impact. Reverse the damage by seeking support, both on and off the job, and taking immediate steps to manage stress. Make friends at work that can support and relate to you, and turn to those closest to you in your personal life. Lastly, build resilience by taking care of your emotional and physical health. Follow healthy lifestyle habits, and don’t be afraid to seek help for your emotional and psychological needs. Take time off work when needed. Sometimes the primary source of burnout comes from working in an ill-fitting position. Your skill set, inherent talents and personality determine which job you’ll thrive best in. Robert L. Bogue, co-author of “Extinguishing Burnout: A Practical Guide to Prevention and Recovery” explains the paradigm of operating within your natural state: “When you’re operating outside of your natural state, you are consuming energy. The more in alignment you become, the less you’re demanding of yourself and the more personal agency you build up.” If you feel like you’re in the wrong career, it might help to develop a career strategy to find a position better suited for you, or use job analysis and crafting in your current position. This allows you to clarify the expectations of your role and work with your team to delegate tasks based off of individual strengths and weaknesses. Finding a harmony in your career is also important. Although establishing a work-life balance is necessary, it is much easier to avoid burnout when you’re doing something you’re passionate about.
How bosses can provide burnout prevention/recovery for staff:
Circumventing burnout is a lot easier when the boss is supportive of their employees’ stress and lifestyle management. As an employer, here are some strategies you can take to prevent burnout among employees:
Help to identify the overachievers and “yes” workers, and try to avoid putting the demands of compensating for other workers on them by giving them choices. They may expect the most demanding projects, so giving them the option for simpler tasks will help to prevent overload.
Regardless of if you are the employee, the manager or the boss, it is important to set boundaries for yourself and your workers. You can do this by scheduling free time. If you are the employee, allow time in your day to decompress and recharge. This includes allowing for vacation and sick days. A change in scenery can help gain a fresh perspective. This includes allowing yourself time to unplug from technology. Remember that the best work is done when working in your element and at full capacity. No one can pour from an empty cup.
--Elizabeth Carter, Office Manager at Country Club Janitorial