Stress-Free Cleaning in the Wee Hours

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Leon finds peace in her job and political lobbying

By Max Sarinsky

Brunilda Leon is as low-key as New Yorkers come. She loves spending hours alone at home during the day, and has concocted a special drink for the first sign of stress or headache: “Take a caramel tea and mix it with cinnamon, that can be really good,” she explained. “I don’t need to take Advil, nothing like that.”

Brunilda Leon, an office cleaner by night, has a side job in real estate, which has fallen on tough times. She recently had to cut back on her own maid as a result. Photo by Karl Crutchfield

It is this quality that makes Leon ideally suited for her job as a cleaning lady in a midtown Manhattan office building, which requires hours each night in isolation. She describes the job as meditative, melting away any lingering stresses from the day.

“I love my night shift,” she said. “I get involved in what I have to do… I may be stressful for an hour, but I have to go back to normal.”

Leon has developed a comfortable routine cleaning 641 Lexington Ave. for the past 19 years. She arrives 20 minutes prior to the beginning of her 5 p.m. shift to catch up with other building employees. When she begins on the first of her two floors, she usually chats with tenants before they leave for the night. “Some of them know my name, some of them just say hello,” Leon said.

Once everyone has left for the evening, Leon spends the rest of the night in solitude until 12:30 a.m., cleaning one and a half floors of the building. Her tasks include vacuuming, wiping down desks and other offices surfaces, and cleaning kitchens. “I’m lucky that I don’t clean bathrooms,” she joked.

During the day, Leon sleeps in a bit (she typically wakes up between 9:30 and 10 a.m.), takes care of errands and makes some extra money as a licensed real estate agent. A self-described political junkie, Leon devotes a good part of each day to reading the newspaper. She’s recently traveled to Albany several times with other members of the 32BJ SIEU union to lobby in support of prevailing-wage legislation.

“If we don’t support candidates who are pro-labor… we won’t have help when we need it,” she explained.

Leon emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1979, and regularly returns to visit her mother and older son, who moved back to start a cell phone business. She is happy to be in the U.S. “I’ve accomplished a lot of things,” she said, noting that she was most proud of raising her two children in America.

Leon has made her home in Queens ever since coming to America, and lives with the younger of her two sons, a college student. She used to employ a maid, but had to cut back after her real estate income declined with the collapse of the housing market. “It’s a big house, I have to do a lot of cleaning,” she said.

Asked before a recent shift which cleaning job she preferred, she laughed: “Here, because I get paid.”

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