Every weekday at 3:15 p.m., Ursula Szewc boards a bus in Wallington, N.J., and rides to Port Authority in Manhattan. From there, she heads across town to the Lincoln Building, a majestic neo-Gothic office tower on East 42nd Street. At 4:30 p.m., she has a quick cup of coffee before punching in and getting her cart ready. And at 5 p.m. sharp, she steps off the elevator and gets to work.
When she arrives, many of the office tenants have already left. Szewc knows not to disturb the stragglers who are busy tying up lose ends so they can make the train back home.
She quickly proceeds to the empty offices. There, she takes out the garbage, dusts, vacuums, turns off the lights and double-locks the door. Garbage, dust, vacuum, lights, door. Szewc will repeat these steps dozens of times during the next six and a half hours, cleaning 30,000 square feet of office space.
Her workday routine has not changed in 23 years. Like many of the women on her team, the 49-year-old joined the building’s cleaning crew decades ago and never left. “All of the people who work here came from Europe,” said the native of Poland. “It was hard for them to find work, but this is a good job with good pay and good benefits. And I just love maintenance. “
Over the years, Szewc has gotten to know the tenants. When she goes on vacation, she said, they complain because they can tell somebody else is filling in for her. When she is moved to a different floor, they ask when she is coming back. “They’re used to you, they trust you, they know you’re going to take care of their office,” she explained. “The main thing is they appreciate my job and I’m very thankful for it.”
Jane McEntyre, who works there, said Szewc plays a key role in the office. “She’s a part of the team, not just a person who comes in to vacuum and dust,” McEntyre said. “When I tell her we have a big meeting, we really need this place spruced up, she gets right to work. She’s very thorough. She does her job and she does it with humor.”
Szewc left her hometown of Wroclaw in 1980, a time of great political upheaval, to join her older sister in New York. She didn’t speak a word of English, but a friend found her work as a nanny. Soon she met her husband, Lester, who is also from Poland. The couple’s two daughters were born a few years later.
Szewc said she relished being able to stay home during the day to take care of them, not having to leave for work until late afternoon.
Her daughters, now 19 and 24, still live with her, but she’s hands-off when it comes to them entering the working world. The only advice she has for them is this: “It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, a lawyer, a salesman or a cleaning person. Whatever you do, you have to love your job.”
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