Before sunrise, before the birds wake up, before people sprawl on the grass in front of the fountain or students struggle to stay awake in their 8:30 a.m. classes, many individuals work hard to keep Occidental functioning. Aside from sleepy athletes or procrastinating students in the library, from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m., employees in Campus Safety, Campus Dining, Facilities and the library have the campus to themselves as they start another day at Occidental.
There are far more people who work morning shifts than those profiled here. The accounts Marketplace Sous Chef Lisa Loya, cleaning services employee William Roman and Sergeant Charles Willis of Campus Safety tell give just a portion of the story of all workers’ experiences.
This is what happens at Occidental before you wake up.
Lisa Loya arrives at the Marketplace at 5 a.m. As sous chef, her job is to ensure everything runs smoothly as the Marketplace staff prepares 3,000 meals every day.
After changing into her uniform, Loya’s first task is to make sure the shipments of food coming in on trucks are delivered and put away. She communicates with Christian Shoemaker, who delivers food from J.S. Ubardelli Produce every morning. The family-run company provides fruits and vegetables like bell peppers and broccoli for Occidental dining services.
Chef Michael “Meesh” Montygierd explains that a shipment of cauliflower that just arrived will be the last one for a few months because of the recent cold weather. He ordered the vegetable so students could enjoy it before it is gone.
Soon after arriving at the Marketplace, Loya heads to get coffee. Women from the bakery have already set out breakfast for the staff: delicate, flaky, bite-sized cinnamon pastries. As she walks around the kitchen, Loya greets various people as they start their days. She greets Hilario Dones, who prepares bacon for breakfast. Feb. 28 is a Thursday, but tomorrow is the start of Loya’s weekend. When she runs into one of her coworkers in the kitchen, Loya does what she calls her “Friday dance.”
The Marketplace functions at a quick pace and Loya has lots to do. Loya considers this day a relief because nobody called in sick. The day before, six people did not show up to work because of illness, previously requested time off or other reasons. When this happens, it presents a challenge because the same amount of work has to be done with fewer people.
“You can’t just push the deadline to Wednesday. The deadline is 7:30 a.m., and then 11:00 a.m. and then 5:00 p.m.,” Loya said.
Montygierd proposes one potential solution for this short-staffing problem.
“It’s one of those things that people don’t see, but it’s a real challenge,” Montygierd said. “I would love to have more workers.”
As the kitchen activity increases closer to opening time, Cold Prep Lead Joseph McKee explains the bustle around him.
“The morning is when all the main stuff happens,” McKee said. “Everyone’s running around for equipment because all the equipment’s gone because you need sheet pans and sheet pans and sheet pans of bacon, and no one else can get a sheet pan until they wash it.”
Loya deals with a similar level of organized chaos. She is called into other tasks before she can return to doing inventory of the vegetables and making sure they are put away. She directs her attention to the bakery. In the tight space of the dessert corner, Loya consults three women about their plans for the day and checks if they need anything. Behind the walls of the glass dessert display, seldom-used churro machine and towers of muffins and bread loaves, Yolanda Martinez and her coworkers pour blueberry and lemon muffin mix into huge tins. Their days started at 5:00 a.m. too.
Another part of Loya’s role is to make sure all food is prepared for events and special requests. She heads over to the administrative office to inquire how things are going.
Loya turns to a wall with pieces of paper outlining what the day’s events are, what food needs to be made and who will make it. Today, there are nine events. The soccer team needs six boxed lunches. Three campus events want lunches made that include food from the cold kitchen, the hot kitchen and the bakery. A food systems panel is today, so the Marketplace staff prepared food to accompany the event.
As the clock ticks closer to 7:30 a.m., more people fill the kitchen. Someone cooks mountains of scrambled eggs at the grill. One woman’s task for her entire shift is to keep the salad bar stocked. Someone else chops vegetables his whole shift. By the sandwich station, Ofelia Martinez makes 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Cooler and Marketplace.
“She puts a big old thing [out for students], she walks away and she comes back, it’s half gone already,” McKee said.
The hustle and bustle are all in a morning’s work for the Marketplace staff and for Loya. Most of the staff do what they do with students in mind, she said.
“Even when they’re just stocking fruit, they really have the students’ well being in mind and really are concerned with making an excellent experience for our students and other guests,” Loya said.
William Roman, like all cleaning services staff, starts his day at 4 a.m. In the next four and a half hours, by 8:30 a.m., he is responsible for having cleaned all the classrooms in Fowler. His shift also includes cleaning bathrooms and teachers’ offices and taking out the trash. He works at such a fast pace that sometimes he runs between classrooms to try to finish his work in time. Roman said his bosses ask him to take his 30-minute break at 8:30 a.m., but he often does not take it until 9:45 a.m. because otherwise, he will not be able to clean all the rooms before students start their classes.
Roman starts his morning cleaning the first floor of Fowler. On his back, he carries a small vacuum which he swings on and off with practiced speed between jobs. Roman pushes both a cart with supplies like rags and whiteboard cleaner and a large trash can. In every classroom, he must clean the whiteboard or chalkboard, vacuum the floor, wipe down the desks or tables and take out the trash, including any garbage students or teachers leave behind. Sometimes they leave large messes.
One time, Roman showed up to Fowler to find that someone had turned a large trash can upside down. He had to clean the garbage that spilled onto the floor.
According to Mario Bonilla, cleaning services manager, other staff have found noodles in the toilet.
Extra work like that makes Roman’s job harder and takes up more of his time, causing him to further delay his breaks. It also gives him less time to do the more meticulous cleaning he would like to be able to do more often, such as sanitizing the doorknobs.
Yet even when students leave behind trash, Roman does his job with them in mind.
“I want to give the best to the students. That’s my motivation,” Roman said.
Because he is so crunched for time, Roman is still cleaning one classroom on the second floor when students trickle in. One uses crutches. Roman asks what happened to him — he sympathizes. He lifts up his ankle towards the student and shows him a scar on the back of his foot from an Achilles tear.
Around 8:15 a.m., 15 minutes before class starts, Roman enters a classroom to clean but the professor is already standing at the front of the room. She tells him not to worry about it. He politely moves on. But even this is a problem for him. If teachers tell him not to do something, over time the room will build up filth. There is a chance his supervisor could come back and ask him about the unclean chalkboard or not-emptied trash. He decides to do what the professor says.
“Part of my job is to be as quiet as possible,” Roman says.
Before working at Occidental, Roman had a job in the film industry but had to leave during the recession. After work, he takes online classes on finance. He hopes to one day move into the finance industry.
Roman started at Occidental as a temporary worker for several years before he moved up to become a full-time worker. Temporary workers make up a portion of the cleaning services staff.
Bonilla recently implemented a new rotating system where cleaning staff sticks with a building assignment for two years before moving to a different one. According to Roman, the woman before him cleaned Fowler for many years. Roman said she developed an injury in her shoulder from the repetitive motion of wiping chalkboards and whiteboards.
Roman said other women have also developed injuries after working themselves too hard and too fast.
“I would love it, instead, to actually hire more permanent workers instead of temps,” Roman said.
According to Bonilla, in the three years since he has been the manager, two new workers were hired.
Roman raised concerns about a position that has still not been filled after a cleaning services employee passed away between the end of Fall 2018 and the start of Spring 2019. He said that while square footage has increased, the number of workers has decreased. With the addition of the Occidental’s new pool, Roman anticipates needing new staff to cover the extra ground.
Bonilla said the square footage most Occidental cleaning service workers clean in one shift is standard for similar schools.
Roman discussed his philosophy about the impact he hopes to make at Occidental. He mentioned the importance to him of interactions with students who study early in the mornings in Fowler classrooms while Roman cleans them. One of these students is Jacob.
“If I leave Oxy knowing that you can leave a footprint wherever you go, whether you’re home, the community or your job, it’s good,” Roman said. “Even with Jacob, we were talking. We were connected. We are a part of the community and we all have something to fill as part of the whole.”
Around July 4, 2018, when Sergeant Willis arrived at campus at 5 a.m. he found that someone had driven down the stairs in front of the Arthur G. Coons (AGC) building. No one was hurt, but LAPD responded and the driver was detained.
“They basically just rolled the car down the stairs and impounded it,” Willis said.
While this incident was unusual, this is the kind of thing early morning Campus Safety staff have to be prepared for when they arrive to make their rounds in the early hours of the morning.
“The biggest challenge is being prepared for anything that could possibly happen,” Willis said.
In the morning, Campus Safety officers often encounter people sleeping in public places on campus. This can include homeless people who slept on campus the night before, sometimes on benches or under the shelter of building overhangs. Willis says they encourage them to leave.
Willis has called 911 several times to respond to unconscious students outside of the door leading out of Berkus Hall on the side closest to Sigma Alpha Epsilon House.
“We find people passed out there on a regular basis,” Willis said.
Willis has worked at Occidental for ten years. He generally wakes up between 3:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. to make it to his 6 a.m. shift. His first item of business is to check in on any information that might have come up since he was last on campus. In the Campus Safety office, he reads a report and a log and checks his email. A briefing board on the wall holds pieces of paper with information on two BOLOs — people to “be on the lookout” for. One shows someone who a cleaning staff member saw break a window in Johnson Hall last month. Another tells officers to be on the lookout for a person who was found one morning taking cover under the overhang of a building.
After checking in at the office, Willis heads to his car. Most buildings are unlocked remotely, but some do need to be unlocked by hand. He then gets to do his favorite activity of the morning: raising the flag.
Willis then sets off on a campus assessment. He drives through most of campus and walks through many buildings, keeping an eye out for anything that could be of concern. The morning of Feb. 19, he does not see anything as unusual as a car driven down the AGC stairs — but he does deal with a misplaced vehicle.
Willis issues a citation to a blue Prius outside the Haines annex. They had parked in the red lines. It could be a fire hazard or a problem if Facilities needs to use the parking space. He says he sometimes responds to calls from them when people park incorrectly.
Vehicles come up a lot in the job of a Campus Safety officer. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about scooters and skateboards on campus. The official policy is that skateboards are not allowed. Willis points out spike-like pieces of metal that act as deterrents for skateboarders on the short, raised wall around the AGC. Apparently, the new Obama steps have appealed to skateboarders too. For a while, there were zip ties on the rails to deter them from skating on them.
After finishing his rounds, Willis heads back to the Campus Safety headquarters. He usually takes this time to brief with whomever he is working with that morning.
There, Administrative Sergeant Claudia Conde is one of two women working in Campus Safety. She is responsible for facilitating the logistics of reports, emails and other organizational tasks with the department.
In her 16 years at Occidental, Conde has witnessed four Campus Safety directors pass through. According to Conde, no two directors have been the same, so she has learned to go with the flow to make sure everyone is supported while keeping in mind the safety of the officers and students.
“When I started in 2003, there’s nothing I did back then that I still do now. It just constantly changes. And it’s a good thing,” Conde said. “What has spiked up is a lot of the mental illness calls that we respond to.”
When she gets to make connections with students she works with while running events or other situations on campus, Conde says she feels good about her impact.
Larry Bolden, a sergeant, notes that students do not often realize the impact of the work being done behind the scenes.
“If you’re doing the job correctly there’s a lot of things that they don’t know,” Bolden said. “When you go into the library, you just assume the library’s going to open, you’re ready to go in there to work.”
Willis echoes Bolden’s sentiment.
“You wake up, you go to the Marketplace, you might even walk past a lot of things that just happened, like a car that was just removed from the stairs, or it could be anything,” Willis said.