Reported Service Worker Injuries May Cause Steam Machines to be Banned

    The steam machines that custodians use to clean students’ dorms and apartments have become a safety issue. A.S. Council is now encouraging the Housing, Dining and Hospitality department to ban them.

    Campuswide Senator Victor Flores-Osorio proposed the resolution against steam machines at a Feb. 16 council meeting. The resolution aims to call HDH’s attention to safety concerns and conspicuous water usage.

    The machines operate at temperatures above 240 degrees Fahrenheit, and have caused about 28 custodians to report injuries — such as steam burns, nerve damage, chronic neck pain and back pain — to HDH this quarter.

    Flores-Osorio said he counted the number of injured workers by speaking with custodians and the Student Workers Collective.

    Many of the custodians are over the age of 50, so Flores-Osorio said it makes them vulnerable to back injuries in transporting the heavy machines on the stairs.

    Custodians use the Karcher DE 4002 steam cleaners — which cost about $1,000 — to sanitize bathroom surfaces, such as showers and counters. According to the online petition, these machines have a capacity of 10.5 gallons, but HDH only allows its workers to use 1 gallon of water per machine.

    According to the manufacturer’s website, however, the machine can produce up to 1,585 gallons of steam from its boiler capacity — which has 1.2 gallons with a run time of a maximum of five hours.

    The Facebook event, called “Petition to Ban Steam Machines at UCSD,” claims campus service workers used Diversey-Glance chemical products before starting to use steam machines this year to clean and disinfect surfaces.

    The petition, which was launched on Jan. 28, said the discontinuation of the chemical products — which are considered environmentally friendly cleaning solutions — had a negative impact on the standard of hygienic cleanliness in all of the college dorms.

    Flores-Osorio said that, although there is a benefit to not using chemicals, the machines require more water to adequately disinfect the housing facilities.

    According to a custodian who wished to remain anonymous, HDH said they use steam machines because they are more environmentally friendly compared to chemical cleaners.

    In addition, Flores-Osorio said the issue is also about the human rights of the workers.

    “We wanted to point out the minor issue of the machines not being environmentally sustainable and link that to the greater issue at hand — fair labor rights or essentially just human rights,” he said.

    But the Student Work Collective and MEChA’s Trabajadores, which launched the Facebook petition, said there are more environmentally friendly alternatives that HDH is not considering due to the low costs of using steam machines that only require water.

    Flores-Osorio took up the cause to promote a safe work environment for the custodians.

    “A petition can only do so much here on campus, so they approached me, and it was something that I cared about also,” Flores-Osorio said.

    Flores-Osorio said students and council members support the resolution to ban the machines at the Feb. 16 A.S. Council meeting, though the proposal garnered criticism for its wording.

    “Basically, council said it was too direct,” Flores-Osorio said. “The resolution made it seem like HDH was a villain. And I think that might have just been the Student Work Collective being passionate about situations [more] than them having one perspective of HDH. I work under Canyon Vista as a student supervisor, so I know that Housing and Dining have the best intentions when it comes to their workers and when it comes to students.”

    Council discussed the merits of the resolution for about an hour and if it was the proper channel of action, as campuswide senator Michael Raimondi stressed the need for careful deliberation.

    Raimondi opposed passing a rushed resolution and wanted to discuss the issue during the meeting instead.

    Eventually, the resolution passed after edits. Council struck out a clause stating HDH refused to revoke the banning of the steam machines for being too directly critical of HDH.

    A.S. Council President and HDH representative Wafa Ben Hassine will present the resolution to Housing, Dining and Hospitality Advisory Committee on Feb. 28.

    “If HDH [were] to ban steam machines, hopefully the workers won’t be in any risk of being injured again,” Flores-Osorio said. “Any potential students [who] might have been around that area won’t be in any risk of being injured also.”

    According to SWC, workers will be writing up a grievance against HDH pertaining to both their injuries and the inefficiency of the steam machines.

    Flores-Osorio said student organization leaders and he will be meeting with HDH administrators.

    “We are in the works of collaborating with the workers to meet with [HDH] prior to March 10 to hopefully alleviate the situation and permanently ban the machines,” Flores-Osorio said.

    A March 10 press conference will be held at the Chancellor’s Complex by AFSCME 3299 — a union that represents 17,000 workers in the UC system.’

    HDH director Mark Cunningham could not be reached for comment.

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