Working Conditions for the Disabled

By Dave Duncan

Jim Martindale is a man with disabilities suffered in a work accident seven years ago. His doctors have warned him about doing any work that requires repetitive motion, heavy lifting or reaching above six feet. After a two year period of disability and physical rehabilitation Jim is now working at a company that does cleaning for commercial, educational, health care and governmental facilities. Jim is in his mid- forties and has one dependent. He has worked for the cleaning firm for almost five years. All the cleaning people, except supervisors, are people with disabilities. Some have physical and some have mental disabilities.

Pay and Benefits

Jim is assigned to work at a number of sites in Broome County and he is responsible for transporting himself from one site to another. He averages about fifty miles a day for work. Jim makes about $13 an hour depending on the pay allocation for each site. There is no health care or pension included. His weekly gas cost is over $70. He is not reimbursed for mileage nor does he get paid for the time it takes to move from one job site to another. Some employees have their family provide them with transportation. A parent with a child could never afford child care. People who work less than six hours a day get no break.

Health Care

Jim and his family cannot afford health care so he applied for Medicaid. He had to make a number of visits to the Broome County Department of Social Services office because he was turned away and told to come on another day. He went early one morning to the DSS office, waited in freezing weather for more than one-half hour for the offices to open and then was told to come back another day. Because of Jim’s low income the tax payers of Broome County must provide the health care because his employer does not.

Disabilities

Jim is assigned to work that his doctors have told him not to do. “I do all these forbidden things at work because the economy is bad and I need the job. I know that when I am older I will have a body that will not perform well.”

Contracts

“Our company has contracts with Federal and State agencies. There are about 35 cleaning workers contracted out to the various local sites. Our supervisors do not allow us to look at the contracts and we are not allowed to talk about the contracts or pay with other employees. I have seen a contract and it calls for more pay than some of the workers get and it does provide for mileage which we do not get. Where does this money go? Who gets it?”

What is the nature of your work?

“We clean. We scrub floors, clean counter and table tops and toilets. It is amazing what condition some employees at the work sites leave the toilets.” There is feces on the floor, the walls, and the toilet seat. Our job is to clean up the toilet areas and we do but we do not get much recognition from the employees who use the facilities. It seems that we are often looked down upon by them. We are invisible to most of them.”

What hazardous conditions do you have at work?

“The major problem is working with some of the cleaning materials that contain dangerous chemicals. The chemicals that we use to clean the toilets are supposed to be left in the toilet for ten minutes before we wash the toilet out. But we are not given enough time to wait the ten minutes. We are on a tight schedule. The boss says to do whatever fits into the schedule. We also are forced to use some dangerous cleaning chemicals that are not on an acceptable list for use. We do not have masks or gloves to handle these chemicals but we still must use them. Also some chemicals should not be mixed with others but it is often done.”

What Would You Change About Your Work Situation?

“I think that workers should be treated better by the supervisors. We do the work that makes the money for the company.”

“As cleaning workers we should be better trained.”

“The contracts should be made available to the workers so that we know what they contain.”

“Limit the chemicals we work with.”

“I would like to see the people at the work sites treat us with some respect.”

“If it were not for us cleaning people all places would shut down.”

Jim’s name has been changed.

 

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