November 22, 2011

Don't think being a janitor is easy

As most younger Baby Boomer remember, the early 1980s did not offer great economic opportunity for anyone. Before we were married, my Beloved -- with his college degree in English and journalism -- worked three jobs to save for my engagement ring, graduate school, and the rent of a small apartment.

He worked as a stringer for a now-defunct daily newspaper, sold books in an independent bookstore, and worked on the night shift as a janitor in a large hospital.

Newt Gingrich suggested in a debate over the weekend that elementary schools should have a "master janitor" supervising children nine to fourteen to clean the schools.

Just for a minute, let's toss the concept of our hundred-year old child labor laws out the window, and ponder this:

Being a janitor is not easy work.

First, there are the chemicals that are used in cleaning. Some can be quite hazardous and require mixing. it is no accident that people who clean are required often to wear haz-mat suits, including masks and gloves.

Second, janitors are often required to do a lot of heavy lifting. My husband had to have special steel-toed boots to protect his feet in case something slipped.

Third, there is the issue of "what" they are cleaning up. I'm not sure I would want my nine-year-old cleaning up after a science classroom. He might not have the maturity to handle things appropriately, even under the supervision of the "master janitor."

I will give Gingrich one small point. That is, I think it is a good idea for children to bear some responsibility in the cleanliness of their classroom. But picking up spitballs and wadded papers around one's desk is a far cry from doing the heavy cleaning that most janitors are responsible for.

Mr. Gingrich, don't minimize the hard work of those folks who clean up after the rest of us. I would be very surprised to know if you used a yellow mop bucket and rag mop to do your own cleaning, though God knows you've made a mess of many things.

Addendum: My husband worked at that hospital before universal precautions. Though he worn a Haz-Mat suit to clean surgery, I was terrified for years about what he had contracted in one of twelve surgical suites he had to clean every night. Night usually meant emergency surgeries; anyone who has been around a hospital knows what that means. If you are in a hospital, make sure you thank the janitorial staff. They do what no one else wants to do, probably because like everyone else, they need a job with benefits. Okay, I'm climbing off my high horse now.