Open letter to Gene Woodard

. Saturday, May 26, 2007

Democracy Insurgent

University of Washington

Seattle, WA 98105

May 26th 2009

Gene Woodard

Director of Custodial Services

814 NE Northlake Place
Seattle, WA 98105

CC: President Mark Emmert, Provost Phyllis Wise, Charles Kennedy (Vice President of Facilities Services), Paul Ramsey (Dean of the School of Medicine), Lawrence Robinson (School of Medicine Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs), John Slattery (School of Medicine Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Education), Martha Somerman (School of Dentistry Dean), Timothy DeRouen (School of Dentistry Associate Dean for Research), Patricia Wahl (Dean of School of Public Health), Eric Staples (reporter at the UW Daily).

Dear Mr. Gene Woodard,

Cuts to custodian’s swingshift will affect the cleanliness of medical facilities and labs in the

Health Sciences buildings

We are members of Democracy Insurgent, a student group at UW involved in fighting against the budget cuts, tuition hikes, and layoffs that the UW administration has accepted and enforced. We are a member group of the Anti-Budget Cuts Coalition. More information about our campaign can be found at:

We are writing to demand that you rescind your decision to cut the custodian swingshifts. We believe that if you do not, your actions will affect the cleanliness and reputation of the Health Sciences labs and medical facilities. We are inclined to take the following actions listed at the end of this letter to expose this fact to the broader community. This could have the potential of negatively affecting the reputation of various UW medical institutions and research labs.

You recently decided to layoff 17 custodians and to eliminate the swingshift by moving 66 custodians to the day shift. We have heard repeatedly from custodians that eliminating the swing-shift will bring unacceptable hardships. As you should know, many custodians work the swing-shift so that they can be available to care for their children during the day when their partners work. Because you pay them so little, they cannot afford to pay for day care.

We have been informed that you are not negotiating with custodians in good faith and have not seriously considered the situation your decision will put them in. You have failed to inform workers and students in advance of the time and location for negotiations with the custodians' union, preventing custodians and other staff and students from having a democratic say in the process. You have eliminated the swingshift workers' shift differential; the union has made clear its willingness to give up the shift differential in order to make it more affordable to keep the swing-shift, but you have insisted upon cutting the shift anyway. You argue that eliminating the swingshift will save money by cutting the cost of managing workers at night.

However, we have heard repeatedly from swing-shift workers that they do not need management because they currently do their jobs efficiently and effectively with little oversight. In fact, workers, staff, and faculty have all testified that custodians have competently doubled as security guards, responding on the spot to emergencies occurring in the middle of the night that managers ignore. This shows they are able to handle their own jobs without you and your management team breathing down their necks. Over the past several decades, UW Facilities Services has followed a trend across the campus toward top-heavy bureaucracy coupled with cuts for the most vulnerable workers. Why does the campus need 10 managers and 10 supervisors to oversee 260 workers? If you eliminate some of your managers, you could easily reverse the layoffs of custodians and keep the swing-shift intact.

Not to mention the fact that you have proposed no cuts to your own $133,560 yearly salary while at the same time asking workers, who make 6 times less than you, to make sacrifices in these hard times.

You argue that the swing-shift must be cut because of the budget cuts and the economic crisis. It has become clear to us however that you have been trying to cut the swing-shift for years and have faced opposition from the custodians and from other staff and students in the past. It is not clear how cutting the swing-shift actually saves money or improves the cleanliness of campus buildings. It logically follows that you are using the threat of budget cuts and layoffs as a pretext to push through a decision you have wanted to make for a while against the will of workers and many staff and students who rely on the custodians to clean our classrooms and labs.

Mr. Woodard, what is really at stake here? It appears to us that you are attempting to break up the solidarity and community that UW custodians have built up by working together in their work areas over the years. By reassigning custodians to new sites you can further isolate and bully immigrant workers by removing their support networks and making it less possible for them to fight back against management’s unreasonable demands. It also appears that you are attempting to impose an unsafe and unrealistic speed up on the day shift workers. The UW Daily reports:

The new shift would require custodians to start work at 5 a.m., giving them three hours to complete tasks that require an empty facility — tasks that swingshift janitors now have eight hours to complete.


It appears that you are either asking the custodians to work inhumanly fast or you are essentially announcing to the campus that our labs, classrooms, and bathrooms will be dirty from now on. Both scenarios are unacceptable not only to custodians but to other staff, faculty, and students on this campus, and we believe that when the student, staff, and faculty find out about it they will be outraged.

We are particularly concerned that your decision could lead to unsafe conditions in the UW labs, jeopardizing our university's standing as a top-notch medical and research facility. The UW Daily reports:

Many non-custodial staff and faculty members have expressed empathy for the custodians and their families and have their own concerns as well. After the shift change, cleaning hours for custodians would be at times when hallways are crowded and classrooms are busy.

'My lab has 32 people working at lab benches with highly fragile constructs and reagents all day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,' said UW professor of medicine and genome sciences Mary-Claire King. 'If these custodians had to work around 32 people, it would be madness.'

King runs a laboratory in the Health Sciences Building, one of the buildings that could soon see the transition. King’s laboratory brings in millions of dollars each year as a result of her federally funded grants. She said productivity wouldn’t be at its best unless she had a clean and tidy lab. 'We have spectacularly cleaned labs,' King said. As a result of the transition, 'we wouldn’t have rooms that are as clean, and we would not have people that are as productive...' UW custodians are concerned about the quality of work they would be able to do under these circumstances. 'Our job is to provide a clean and healthy learning and working environment,' said UW custodian Kevin McArthur. 'It’s not to do a slap-dash job three hours before the clients arrive in the morning.'" (

If you do not maintain the swing-shift, some custodians will lose their homes and many will face major family crises. Meanwhile, as students, we will find ourselves in a situation where we are paying 14% more tuition to study in unsafe, dirty classrooms and labs. Since you have insisted on cutting the swing-shift by June 1st, we are forced to act rapidly in response.

We demand that you publicly announce in the UW Daily or by email response to us that you will not cut the swing-shift and that you will also not layoff any more custodians. If we do not hear from you by 8am on Wednesday morning (May 27th 2009), we will proceed to do the following:

1) Distribute a version of the attached flyer across campus including at the main doors of the UW Medical Center and throughout the Health Sciences buildings.

2) Contact all major Seattle newspapers informing them of the situation.

3) Contact US News and World Report and other institutions that rank the quality of education at US universities and inform them that UW labs and classrooms will likely become unclean, requesting that they investigate your decision.

4) Contact the Seattle Board of Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and request that they investigate your decision.

5) Contact UW researchers whose labs will be affected, encouraging them to testify at the Board of Regents meeting.

These actions are being taken by Democracy Insurgent in solidarity with custodian workers. Should you move to retaliate against any workers because of our actions, we are prepared to launch a defense campaign in support of them. We have already contacted all of the relevant workers centers, civil rights groups, and ethnic mutual aid societies across the city. We are prepared to frame this struggle as part of a broader, city-wide, anti-racist and worker’s rights struggle. It is a matter of justice for workers of color and immigrant workers.

We believe that as an institution that claims to uphold multiculturalism and diversity, this sort of publicity is not desirable for yourself and the UW administration.

We also believe that such undesirable publicity about the potential lack of cleanliness in UW labs and health facilities as a result of the elimination of the swingshift can affect the research funding various labs at UW receive. We do not believe that your office would like to bear the responsibility of giving UW such a negative reputation.

This open letter is posted it on our blog at:

We look forward to hearing from you soon.


Democracy Insurgent