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Custodians work hard for district



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Custodian Diane Beattie hopes her and her fellow workers keep their jobs Photo by T. Keiser (click for larger version)
April 25, 2012 - As a kid Dion Beattie was taught "If you take care of your job. Your job will take of you."

Beattie doesn't feel her job is taking care of her much these days as the possibility of privatizing custodial services for Lake Orion schools lurks in the shadows.

"Psychologically I feel terrorized by this," she said. "Everyday I wake up thinking, I work thinking, and I go to bed thinking 'Do I have a job in a couple of months?'"

Beattie, a single mother of two children in college is just one of 46 employees who would be affected by the privatization.

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"I have a plan if something does happen to our jobs, but I'm only one, I'm not talking about my co-workers," Beattie said. "Some of my co-workers have been there for 20 plus years. What are they going to do? How can they go to a new company making so little?"

According to Kathy Sandstrom AFSCME Local 1472 chapter chair for Lake Orion, the average union custodian for Lake Orion makes between $34,000-$42,000 a year and has an average of about 14 years.

"Once a custodian reaches a level five, they don't get any higher pay," Sandstrom said.

Beattie said she would only gross between $18,720 and $22,880 at a private company, if she was lucky enough to work full-time. Poverty level for a family of three in the state of Michigan is $18,535, which according to her would put her around $190 just above poverty.

"Being above poverty level I would not get any help with food stamps or Medicaid or anything like that for my children or myself," she said. "One hundred ninety dollars would stand between me properly feeding my family and insuring them."

As for the job itself, Beattie believes many don't understand what all they do.

"We do a lot of the stuff, people don't want to think about," she said. "We're cleaning up messes people don't want to know about."

Beattie said they are more than just "janitors" who mop and sweep.

"I fix toilets, I fix lights, I do electrical, and I do plumbing," she said. "All these things are not on a daily basis but when asked I say, 'Sure, get right on it.'"

Head Custodian Pam Welch said the custodians of Lake Orion do plumbing, electrical work, heating and cooling, tile repair and/or replacement, snow removal and salting of sidewalks and entrances.

"We also weed around the buildings and court yards, and clean up and disinfect after a student gets sick in a class room or hallway," Welch said. "This is above and beyond maintaining the cleanliness of our schools."

Fellow Head Custodian Holly Hensley agreed.

"We may have a certain time that we are supposed to punch out, but that does not mean that we have punched out from the district. We stay and help with whatever is needed because we care," Hensley said. "We do whatever is needed because we care. We take pride in what we do because we know the job we are doing is important and we are part of the Lake Orion Team."

Beattie said the majority of the custodial staff live in Lake Orion and this is where they, eat, shop, and raise their families.

Hensley was also born and raised here. Like Beattie she chose to raise her kids here because she loves Lake Orion and has pride in her hometown.

"I would definitely be classified as someone who "Bleeds Green," she said. When I think of Orion, I think of a town that sticks together and that when times get tough Lake Orion will have your back. This town is all I know and Lake Orion High School is truly my second home."

Hensley started working for the district 21 years ago as a substitute bus driver and eventually became a driver. When the new high school opened in 1997, it became her second home.

Beyond just the hard hours of work put in for their bosses, Beattie said they've developed relationships with both teachers and students. She has walked teachers to the their cars at night to make sure they got their safely or let students in after hours to get a book from their locker, so they can get there homework done.

"There are a lot of kids who know me. They might not know my name, but they know me and can come to me," she said. "You don't know how many times I'm handing my cell phone over and they're calling their parents."

It's something that meant a lot to her when her kids were in school.

"I was a single parent, I worked long hours, both of my kids did stuff after school," she added. "I knew if they had to stay after school they were sitting in the spot I told them to sit in and the custodians knew who they were."

As for concessions and cuts, Beattie said they've already taken them. They made concessions in healthcare and wages.

"What they've requested these companies to bid on and what we do are two different things," she said. "I know they're not apples to apples."

The only thing she wants is for her and her fellow employees to be able to keep on working.

"I feel in my heart, we don't deserve this," she said. "I just want to keep doing my job."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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