An End to the Smoke and Mirrors

Most of these halfhearted efforts at activism, of course, don’t make it beyond the Firefox browser. But the Student Work Collective’s petition to ban steam cleaners has made its way to the A.S. Council floor, and will be presented to the campuswide Housing and Dining Committee this Monday.

The Facebook event, which has 402 student attendees, is meant to bring awareness to the steam cleaners custodians use to sanitize bathroom surfaces. According to an anonymous HDH employee, the cleaners that operate at 240 degrees have injured 28 employees since the beginning of the quarter.

While the steam cleaners are a more eco-friendly alternative to chemical cleaners, and while UCSD prides itself on being such a green campus, people’s health should come first. And when it comes down to toeing the line between reducing HDH’s carbon footprint and employee safety, the employees always have to come first, whether this means looking into alternatives or investing in more accident prevention training for the employees.

Unlike many of A.S. Council’s resolutions, which serve merely to take an ideological stance, this one is the first step toward change. Though the results of Monday’s presentation are up in the air, at least  the resolution’s existence shows HDH that students are concerned about the safety of UCSD employees. For a student government that, like any government, is notorious for its bureaucracy, it’s remarkable that this grassroots effort has gone from Facebook event to A.S. resolution to the Housing and Dining Committee with  relative speed.

Of course, even if HDH recognized its folly in using such dangerous machinery, the department’s not likely to immediately abandon the campuswide supply of steam machines, which run for about $1,000 apiece. There’s serious fiscal and environmental factors to consider, and if the department does decide to replace the steam cleaners, it’ll need to look into safer alternatives that are as efficient and eco-friendly.

Still, we have to hand it to the Student Work Collective. While banning steam cleaners might seem like a small-scale reform that won’t directly affect the lives of most students, it would be an important victory for on-campus custodians — and also sends the administration the boldfaced message that despite our campus’s now-notorious apathy, grassroots student reform isn’t so easily silenced.