Lilla Wallace cleaning specialist at a railcar refurbishment facility in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Lilla Wallace

Lilla Wallace is a cleaning specialist at a railcar refurbishment facility in Los Angeles, CA.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles.  I was recently working at a salon doing hair, but the salon closed. I was hired by a cleaning company contracted to a commuter rail agency.

I work inside the garage, the Service and Inspection area called S&I. When Fatima moves the trains inside, we start working inside the cars. We do two cars a day — the whole thing! It’s detailing, elbow grease, hard cleaning, hard work, not soft cleaning.

We find crazy stuff on the trains, like little shot glasses, lost phones, wallets. At Christmas time we find presents.  We sometimes find people who fell asleep.  The conductors are supposed to walk the whole train but sometimes they don’t.

There are men and women working together on the cleaning crew.  Working with men is more relaxing.  When we’re all together it’s better, the environment is more fluid.  It’s mixed. I like working with men, because there’s less drama than with all women.  They keep their feelings inside.

One gross job is to “dump the trains.” It’s considered a man’s job, they won’t train two of my female colleagues to do it. You need proper safety training.

I showed some of my colleagues ways to evolve our work.  They were working backwards, messing up the coordination of the teams.  I figured out ways to make it more efficient, instead of walking way over here to get over here, and back over here to get way over here. I’m a leader, natural born.

“Women Can Build” means that if we put our mind to it, we can build anything — freeways, trains, etc.  Men only have one side of their brains working, but women are great at multitasking!  That’s why we can pick up the kids, manage the bills, go to work, talk on the phone….all at once.   Meanwhile they [men] just sit there are flick the remote.

I could see myself being a mechanic one day. I like physical work too!  My dad was a truck driver so I was around truck stops and big trucks all my life.  You can work hard and still retain your femininity.

We need a union in the cleaning staff.  We get paid crumbs, just a little more than minimum age.  I work 40 hours/week, but our overtime is all messed up.

When our carts break it takes 6 months to fix them.  We get  a $100 stipend to buy work boots every few years, but the unionized railcar maintenance workers get new ones paid for every year. The other contractors have carts with umbrellas when it rains, and our people are walking around holding their equipment and lugging a vacuum cleaner.

We walk far, from the storage area all the way to the trains, back and forth.  Sometimes it’s 90 degrees, and we have our vests, our hats, our gloves, and are holding all our equipment. Then we get into the cars and there’s no ventilation, no air on, it’s hot.  We don’t get masks at all.  We’re just sitting there inhaling like its a hookah.

We had an incident when our supervisor lost her keys to the trains, and she made everyone stand around until 5 o’clock, until she found them.  She went into one employee’s locker and rummaged through her personal stuff, to search for the keys, without her permission.

There are a lot of folks act like puppies, “yes-yes-yes,” feeling like they owe Management.  Some people we work with  don’t know the contract, state laws, they basically don’t know their rights.  Me, I speak up for myself.

What’s important to me is God first, then my family.   I have two sons: one is 18 years old and the other is 7 years old.  The older one is done with High School and he’s about to go into the Air Force. The little one is lovely.  He’s playing soccer and organized his own little team.

I think I bring a smile to everyone I work with, even when they’re trying to be mean. I’m friends with Fatima — sometimes I bring her Hersheys.

I like to have fun and be happy.  Drama-free.  I don’t take everything so serious like it’s the end of the world.  Things come and go. Enjoy your life.  I’m like a hippie at heart.