Elvia Ramirez
New UCI employee Elvia Ramirez, who leads a solid waste and recycling team, says: “I want to thank everyone for everything they do to make this a zero-waste campus.” Steve Zylius / University Communications

At 5 a.m. the UC Irvine campus is quiet, the air fresh. Small nocturnal animals sometimes still scurry about. Elvia Ramirez likes this time best – when she’s helping her solid waste and recycling team prepare for the day by handing out keys and assignments.

For more than two decades, Ramirez has labored in some capacity to keep the campus shipshape. But she wasn’t a UCI employee until recently, when 17 custodians formerly with contract company ABM were hired directly by the university. As “insourced” workers, they receive more paid holidays, broader health insurance options, retirement benefits, sick leave, and official UCI uniforms and ID cards.

On July 1, the first day of their new status, Ramirez and her co-workers were welcomed with a daybreak meal of eggs, bacon and hash browns. “It took me a long time to get to UCI,” she says. “I was 18 when I started here, and I’m 42 now. I’m excited to be here. I love the campus.”

The custodians are among the last outsourced workers to be hired by the university, says Steven Johnson, director of employment services at UCI. Groundskeepers and food service staff were insourced in 2006, but the process for custodians – which began more than a year ago – was different because both UCI and contract employees were allowed to apply for the open positions. A recruitment committee evaluated applicants, and 17 jobs were filled, Johnson says.

“This is just the first phase of insourcing custodial workers,” he notes, “and we’re happy to be able to do this because many of these people have been working here as contract employees for a long time, and we want them to be part of UCI.”

Over her 23 years on campus, Ramirez has worked for five contract firms – a result of UCI periodically putting the work out to bid and changing companies to get the best rate, as required by state public contract code.

“I’m happy now because I know UCI is not going anywhere,” she says. “We have more security.”

Ramirez started as an entry-level custodian and now leads a team that strives to make UCI a zero-waste campus, collecting and recycling nearly 100 percent of the paper and cardboard that come with running a university. Her position requires that she have excellent English skills and specialized knowledge of equipment.

“It was a new experience for me to be interviewed for the job,” she says of the insourcing process, “and it was a good experience.”

Now that she’s part of UCI, Ramirez hopes to extend that connection to the rest of her family. “I have two sons, 18 and 15,” she says. “I hope they could come here as students someday. They already know the campus so well.”