CLARIFICATION: This story’s subheading has been updated to better reflect which housekeepers said they are receiving one KN95 mask a week.
The University of Maryland Residential Facilities housekeepers say they have to clean up messes in the dorms they should not have to deal with.
Around the end of January, someone put feces on the wall in the men’s bathroom on the seventh floor of Elkton Hall, according to GroupMe messages obtained by The Diamondback. University spokesperson Natifia Mullings acknowledged this incident happened.
In an emailed statement, Mullings said in these instances, Resident Life staff respond quickly to “reiterate community expectations, seek the community’s assistance regarding these incidents and remind students of the impact negative actions have” on the university’s community and housekeeping staff.
Residential Facilities also said it seeks “to hold individuals accountable for their actions when they don’t meet these expectations.” This university didn’t disclose the person responsible for this incident or what consequences were brought against that person, if any.
But incidents like this aren’t as uncommon as one might think.
Several years ago, Shernette Lyons, a Residential Facilities housekeeper, showed up to work at Chestertown Hall, thinking it was going to be a normal workday. Then, she saw feces in the shower in a women’s restroom in the hall. A few days later, it happened again.
Lyons left the mess on the floor both times and told her supervisor about it, who eventually spoke to the resident assistant on the floor. Lyons said she assumed another housekeeper cleaned it up because both times, the mess was gone the next time she showed up for work. Lyons found it disrespectful that a student living in a dorm would do something like this.
“I went there to work, not to clean [feces],” Lyons said. “I don’t condone that. I think that’s disrespectful because that’s human bodily fluids.”
Lyons, who has worked at this university for 11 years, also mentioned she never got any training on how to clean feces, and said that shouldn’t be part of her job.
Beyond some housekeepers having to clean up bodily fluids, Todd Holden, the president of local AFSCME 1072, which represents this university’s employees, said housekeepers who work in Residential Facilities are receiving one KN95 mask a week. It’s different for facilities management housekeepers, Holden said.
“In [facilities management], housekeepers get one mask per day, no questions asked. If the mask is wet or dirty or damaged, they can, with no questions asked, be able to get additional masks on request from the supervisor,” Holden said.
But Holden added the caveat that mask distribution can vary from building to building and from supervisor to supervisor.
In response to mask disparity claims between housekeepers who work in Residential Facilities as opposed to facilities management, the Residential Facilities department responded with a statement.
“We maintain an inventory of masks and all of our housekeepers can use as many masks as they need,” the statement said. “Based on housekeeper feedback, we changed their supplies so that they could provide housekeepers with individually wrapped KN95 masks.”
But according to Lyons, who now works at Centreville Hall, she was only able to get one KN95 mask per week even when she questioned her supervisor. Lyons said she felt the need to order more for herself.
“[My supervisor] said one for the week. I said, ‘For the week?” Lyons said. “They don’t want to give us KN95 [masks] because they don’t want to purchase it.”
Rhonda Leneski, a Residential Facilities housekeeper who works at Ellicott Hall, also said she only gets one mask per week. She was told to “just clean” the mask whenever it got dirty.
One time, Leneski got her KN95 mask wet and threw it out because it was too wet to use. Leneski notified her supervisor but was told she’d already gotten her KN95 for the week. Leneski’s only option was to put on a standard blue surgical mask.
Leneski said the university needs to give housekeepers KN95 masks everyday.
“They need to give us the [K]N95 mask if they want us to wear the [K]N95 mask,” she said.
Another problem is how hot the dorms can get. Both Lyons and Leneski said housekeepers working in the dorms sweat quite a bit. Right now, the heat is turned way up in the dorms, Lyons said, and it gets hot while they do their work. The sweat in the masks is another reason Lyons said housekeepers should receive more KN95 masks than they’re currently getting.
Local AFSCME 1072 has handed out more than 3,500 masks to university employees since summer 2020 to help out where it can. Holden said supplying masks and other COVID-19 resources has been an “ongoing issue.”
“That’s no way to run a workplace that values people,” Holden said.