It’s 10 p.m. and Darlene Esquivel is just pulling into a staff parking lot alongside El Camino College’s facilities management building. Esquivel is one of about 30 custodians on the graveyard shift who put the Torrance campus back in shape while more than 22,000 students sleep.“We do everything from mopping and waxing to dusting,” she said. “And whatever the day shift missed, we do that too.”About 380 staff belong to AFT Local 6142, the El Camino Classified Employees. Former local President Luukia Smith said, “Night shift is out here by themselves. There was no union rep, and they felt alone.”

Five new organizing committee members — Onnis Flores, Barry Cunnigan, Earl Eiland, Lenya Bernal and Esquivel — dedicated two nights to speak with every custodian. Organizers then held a training where they identified short staffing as the most pressing issue and drafted a petition calling on the district to collaborate on workloads.“Short staffing has been an ongoing problem for years,” Flores said, one made worse by budget cutbacks of the past decade. “We feel the pressure to do more and more, to the point that we feel bullied.”

Custodians are assigned “runs,” a regular set of rooms or floors in a building or facility similar to workloads assigned to hotel staff. There are nearly 50 runs on campus, almost double the number of custodians. When vacations and sick coworkers are taken into account, staff are almost always forced to work two or more runs per shift. They can be written up for insubordination if they don’t do their regular run and any extra assignments.“This campaign is our opportunity to make needed changes,” Smith concluded.