They clean our bathrooms, pick up our trash and maintain the appearance of the campus. They are the UT facilities workers.
Facility services is a broad department that includes building, landscape and lock and key services on a campus with more than 260 buildings, 556 acres and 33 miles of sidewalks and plazas.
Josh Smyser is a facility services worker who cleans the Stokely Management Center. Smyser has been employed by the university for a little over a year.
"It's a decent job," Smyser said, "but it could be better."
According to Smyser, there are three major issues with the job; the wages, the employee evaluation system and the mistreatment of workers by supervisors.
Based on a UT Faculty Senate study conducted for the 2010-11 academic year, a "living wage" is around $9 an hour, or $25,000 per year. The study defined a living wage as one that is "sufficient to pay for the basic bare-bones needs of a family living in today's America without having to resort to public benefits, crime or private charity."
The present base pay for UT facilities workers is $8.50 an hour.
"I'm single, so it's a little easier for me to live on that salary," Smyser said. "But I know people who have families to support and they really struggle."
In order for facility workers to receive more than the base pay, they must score well on evaluations conducted by their supervisor.
"The current push is to make all pay raises performance-based rather than across the board increases," said Janet Miles, vice president of the United Campus Workers Knoxville chapter. "This means that a poor performance evaluation has a direct negative effect on an employee."
The reasoning behind this type of system seems sound, Miles said, but there are issues with the way employees are assessed that make evaluations arbitrary and inaccurate.
"There is no consistent system-wide process for writing performance evaluations," Miles said. "There is training for it, but it is entirely optional."
Poorly-conducted evaluations by supervisors are frequent occurrences, Smyser said, adding that the assessments are "pretty much a joke."
"Someone I know had a supervisor write on their evaluation that they were not a 'team player' and so they were marked poorly on that section," he said. "It made no sense because that man works by himself in a building. Now he won't be able to get a raise."
A lack of supervisory training can lead to substandard leadership skills, Smyser said.
"My boss was not really trained to be a supervisor," he said. "He and others just make it up as they go along, which can lead to a sort of dictatorial style. They just want to tell you what to do even if they don't know the right way or have never read the code of conduct."
There have been reports of supervisors verbally abusing employees in front of other workers and UT students.
"The way some supervisors talked to us made me feel beneath myself," said Gary Thomas, who recently retired from his job maintaining the Dougherty Engineering Building due to a disability. "I'm a human being, too, and [supervisors] act like they're better than us. They just don't care."
"There's really no way to guard against verbal abuse," Smyser said. "Some people carry around recording devices in their pockets so they can defend themselves."
According to the UCW, the mistreatment of facility employees has led to almost a 50 percent turnover rate since January of 2012.
"Understaffing is constant," Smyser said. "If you don't treat people well, if you don't pay people well, they don't stay."
On May 1 of this year, Smyser and four other facilities services employees led a "Justice for UT Custodians Speakout" to air their grievances. Approximately 70 people were in attendance at the UC Shiloh Room where the meeting was held, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
"At a public institution, this kind of bully culture is completely unacceptable," Smyser said in a media advisory for the speakout. "And the record shows that management is making it unbearable."
Karen Ann Simsen, UT media and internal relations director addressed the allegations in a statement responding to the speakout.
"We take very seriously all of the claims that have been alleged by the custodial employees of Facilities Services," Simsen said.
Some response has resulted from the event, Smyser said, but not in all areas or to the extent desired by the facility workers.
"There still needs to be clear expectations that we're measured by and that everyone acknowledges," Smyser said. "I worked for the county school system and there we had checklists and procedures to follow to clean different areas. None of that exists here.
"And we need to be paid a livable wage for the job. Our union is reinitiating a living wage campaign that we are hoping will produce change."
Thomas falls under the same belief.
"UT is a great place to go to school," Thomas said, "And a great place to watch a football game, but I've seen things that need to change."