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Wal-Mart night cleaner is all business

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Friday, April 18, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - I have to admit, on my way to visit the night cleaners at Wal-Mart, I had fantastic visions of ball hockey games in the aisles or an improvised fashion show in the clothing section.

I was giddy at the thought of having the entire mega-store all to ourselves. I even wore my white sneakers and tight jeans in case a giant piano materialized and I could emulate Tom Hanks in the scene from Big.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Efren Gacayan has swept the aisles of the Yellowknife Wal-Mart five nights a week for 14 years. "We just keep on going," he said of his crew of two to four, who are responsible for cleaning the 58,000-square-foot mega-store every night. - Herb Mathisen/NNSL photo

Upon entering the store, all the lights were still on and the televisions had not gone off. It looked like the perfect opportunity for fun.

But that's why I would never be allowed to work this job, and why Efren Gacayan is the right man for it.

Gacayan, the head cleaner on Wal-Mart's night shift, pushes a broom or a floor washing machine up and down the aisles five nights a week, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He has been doing the job for 14 years.

"It's just the same," he said. "I'm used to it."

Gacayan does not ride bikes through the aisles or lounge around eating candy and watching movies on the television displays. He goes on about his business and gets the job done.

Gacayan and his team, which ranges from two to four workers, are responsible for cleaning the 58,000-square-foot floors - larger than the size of two football fields - each night. They also periodically strip and wax the floors, which proves a gigantic task, "especially when we do stripping and all of a sudden the power goes out," said Gacayan, smiling.

Breaks seem to be where he lets loose. He said he enjoys a card game or two.

Does he ever test out new video games, though?

"No," he answered. "They had (an arcade style video machine) here before, but they removed it 'cause of the kids (abusing it)."

He did not even look as if he missed it.

This time of the year, Gacayan said, is the dirtiest. "Especially this month, with all the gravel coming in."

He does not seem to mind the hours.

"It's hard to find people to work at night," he said.

Once, he found a fellow employee napping in the back room.

Gacayan and his crew are comprised mostly of fellow Filipinos, he said.

"I can tell them what to do in our own language."

He has not tired of his job, even after all the years.

"I know all the people here right now," he said. "The benefits are good."

When asked if there was anything he would change about his job, he shook his head. Would he like it if Wal-Mart was made a little bit smaller to lighten the workload?

"Maybe," Gacayan responded, before shaking his head and laughing. "No."