BC K-12 custodian represents frontline workers as Newsmaker of the year

CUPE 523 member John Johnson, a custodian at Penticton High School (PenHi), was selected by the Penticton Herald to represent their Newsmaker of the Year. Almost 70 per cent of readers selected frontline workers as the 2020 newsmaker.

Previously Johnson worked evenings in a middle school. “Moving to days connected me more to the staff, the building and the students in it,” said Johnson.

As a daytime custodian in a large inner-city school with 65 classrooms and 1100 students, his regular work starts before school and includes opening the building, checking the premises and grounds, an hour of cleaning and sanitizing, and then getting kids into the building safely. Once classes begin, as well as sanitizing vacant areas, Johnson does a myriad of things to keep the building safe during the day such as participating in the buildings’ Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

“I would be truly handcuffed if I didn’t have a good relationship with my administrators,” says Johnson. He also helps facilitate fire drills for PenHi and the neighbouring middle school, monitors school systems and requests appropriate repairs, as well as coordinating routes for the sanitizing crew to where they are most needed.

Johnson said that although custodial work has shifted toward the sanitizing side, the same men and women have been working to keep schools safe year after year. “It’s taken COVID to bring this work into the spotlight as an essential job, to see how important our work is.”

CUPE 523 Unit 67 Chair Tammy Carter believes all K-12 support staff deserve recognition for a job well done. “I am so proud of all our K-12 custodians and support staff in Unit 67, Okanagan Skaha,” says Carter. “It’s great to finally see K-12 support staff recognized.”

The Penticton Herald newsmaker of the year article notes that custodians are “finally getting their due after decades as arguably the most underappreciated workers in the school system”. Johnson is also representing “frontline workers such as cashiers, clerks, cab drivers, servers and others that keep society moving while health professionals, teachers and first responders make headlines elsewhere on the front lines.”