The University Record, June 18, 2001

Blind and Shade Operation Team ready to take curtain calls

By Lesley C. Harding
News and Information Services

Blind and Shade Operation Team members John ‘J.P.’ Pittman, left, and Robin Bowerman place a set of blinds in the cleaner.
Move over, U.S. Olympic “Dream Team.” The U-M’s “Clean Team” is ready to take you on. The four-person Blind and Shade Operation Team travels across campus cleaning and repairing Venetian blinds at all University buildings.

With hundreds of buildings on campus, the squad works on a rotational basis, determining which blinds are in the worst shape and tackling those first. The team can face some tough challenges, since many of these blinds have been around since World War I.

During the past four years, the group’s responsibilities have increased. Not only are members responsible for cleaning, repairing, ordering and installing blinds—both vertical and horizontal—they also manufacture shades.

The Blind and Shade Operation Team is up before the sun, arriving at work as early as 5 a.m. One “Clean Team” member is designated washer, the rest are hangers. The hangers head out into the field with clean and repaired blinds, while the washer stays behind and gets the tank ready for the day’s dirty work.

After installing the clean blinds, the hangers take down more dirty and broken blinds and head back to the shop on North Ingalls Street. Room numbers and an “L” or “R” for left or right are put on the back of each blind for identification. The designated washer then takes over, dipping each blind in the sonic cleaner for about five minutes. The blinds then are rinsed and put on a rack to dry overnight. Cleaning, repairing and hanging as many as 25 blinds are all in a day’s work for this group.

“I like working with my hands, going out, meeting and talking to people,” says John “J.P.” Pittman, Venetian blind cleaner.

“I feel a sense of accomplishment,” says Joe Rudd, Venetian blind cleaner. “Just by seeing the clean blind, you know you’ve done a good job.”

Members of the ‘Clean Team,’ from left to right: Ben Manner, Joe Rudd, Bowerman and Pittman. (Photos by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
It’s a dirty job, but the members of this group love it. They work as a self-directed team, which means no supervisor, just a coach. They sit and review work orders together, determining which buildings are next for the “clean sweep.”

“We work really well together,” says the newest member of the team, Robin Bowerman. “It’s like a second family.”

The team has designated Pittman the “Joker.” He likes to go into people’s offices and tell them that their blinds are being repossessed because the University hasn’t paid its bill.

Nine times out of 10, he gets the desired response. “If I can go into a room and put a smile on a person’s face, I’ve done my job,” Pittman says. “I’ll go out of my way to get a smile.”

Ben Manner has worked as a Venetian blind cleaner for 10 years. He knows he was hired because of his small physique. He often finds himself in tight corners, small spots and every now and then a tricky situation.

Luckily, most of the blinds are accessible with the use of the team’s 16-foot ladder, but it takes a scaffold to reach the blinds in the School of Music, and those in the Art and Architecture Building and Alumni Center both require a lift. And not all blinds are created equal. The team prefers working with Levelor Riviera blinds.

So, if your day seems a little brighter and your office a little less dusty, chances are the Blind and Shade Operation Team has struck again. They’ll be back in about five years.