Safety and Respect Go Hand-in-Hand for this School Custodian

“We need to be respected. We’re a part of the education team just like everyone else and it is time for us to be treated like we belong here.”

Lead Custodian Eric Martin has been providing cleanliness inside and out of classrooms at Santa Monica Malibu Unified (SMMUSD) for almost 24 years and he feels like his crew does not get the credit they deserve for all the hard work they put in to make sure students have a safe and clean learning environment.

“They treat us like we are third-class citizens, like if our jobs are not important because we aren’t teachers. But we are important and even though we are just custodians in their mind, we are still setting examples for the kids.”

Eric refers to all the students as “his” kids and explains how he wears many hats on the job.

“We’re there for whatever our kids need.”

He helps service nine sites throughout SMMUSD. Eric begins his shift at 2:00 pm in the district office, where he picks up everything his crew will need for the day. Most of the time, he picks up safety equipment and additional cleaning supplies to drop off to other custodians.

Throughout the pandemic, Eric and his crew have been working at school sites. He supports his crew by making sure they all have what they need to keep students and themselves safe from the coronavirus, but even this can be a challenge.

“It’s like pulling teeth when I ask for the little things like masks, cleaning chemicals, electrostatic sprayers, face guards, and everything else we need to make our jobs safer.”

Covid-19 required custodians to use more supplies and personal protective equipment. It also added additional duties, including, regularly applying disinfectants to high-touch surfaces and disinfecting buildings for infection control.

“We have more work to do with no staff. Sites that are supposed to have three to four custodians only have one.”

When sites are short-staffed, Eric is the one that goes to the school to help out as much as he can. But there is only so much he can do during his work shift.

“Every single day we are short-staffed. Every day I am trying to help pick up the slack because we do not have enough custodians.”

Eric believes cleaning standards and the work custodians do are needed for students to be able to learn in the classroom, “It shows them we not only care about the way the school looks but also about their safety.”

He hopes to see real change for custodians in the district, like higher pay, more benefits, more workers, and most importantly respect.

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