School day continues for UPW custodians, cafeteria employees


POSTED: Saturday, October 24, 2009

For cafeteria workers and custodians at public schools in the McCully-Moiliili area, Furlough Friday was just another workday.

“;The pace is just a little slower,”; said Desiree Fonseca, one of three cooks at Washington Middle School on South King Street yesterday. “;It's just a little more quiet and much less stressful without the kids here.”;

Custodians and cafeteria workers at Hawaii's public schools are represented by the United Public Workers union, which has not settled its contract with the state. The workers were required to report to work while public schools were closed for more than 170,000 public school students statewide.

At Ala Wai Elementary School on Kamoku Street, the sign in front of the one-story building said, “;No School, Friday October 23, Furlough Friday.”;

All the gates to the school grounds and the parking lot were chained and padlocked.

However, three of Ala Wai's six part-time custodians were in the cafeteria with buckets, rags and ladders, cleaning the walls, windows and lighting fixtures.

Two of the custodians were on vacation, and one had called in sick yesterday, said Ernestine Stride, who has been working at the school for nine years.

The three UPW workers had begun their shift at 7 a.m. and were scheduled to go home four hours later.

Normally there are two shifts to cover, said Jimmy Tanji, who has worked at Ala Wai for four years. One shift opens the campus, and the other cleans the cafeteria after lunch and the classrooms after the students go home, he said.

“;We got a good gang working here,”; said Tanji.

“;We got assigned work to do, and we doing the same thing, it's just there are no kids around.”;

At McKinley High School on South King Street, the campus was deserted except for four cafeteria workers and six custodians.

On the massive grassy mall fronting the familiar statute of President William McKinley, Adelaida Garania carefully worked her weed whacker along the edge of one of the sidewalks.

She and the other custodians had gotten printed instructions from their boss Esther Shibata, who was not working yesterday, outlining their duties on the first Furlough Friday.

Garania, who has been at McKinley since 1990, and several other custodians started their workday at 7 a.m. unloading boxes of books.

At 10 a.m. she turned on the mall's sprinklers and would spend the rest of the morning with her weed whacker.

After lunch Garania cleaned the eight restrooms in the two buildings assigned to her and trimmed the hedges and shrubbery around them. “;It's better than being on strike,”; she said.

Frances Bailey has been one of four custodians at Washington Middle School for the past two decades. All of the custodians are assigned a certain sector of the campus.

“;For us it's just another workday,”; added Bailey, who was using a weed whacker to trim the grass on the Philip Street side of the campus.

“;I am hoping that we (UPW) will settle. I don't mind furloughs. It's better than striking. Either way you lose money.”;

The four cafeteria workers at Washington spent yesterday preparing items for next week's menu, including making the dough that will be used for pizzas. They had started work at their usual time of 6 a.m.

“;Then we will clean the oven and the freezers,”; Fonseca said.

She said Washington's principal, Michael Harano, had talked with her on Thursday to ensure that there would be no problems.

When her shift ended yesterday at 2:20 p.m., Fonseca locked the cafeteria as she has done for the past five years and turned on the alarm.