Lower Manhattan Office Cleaner
By Kathleen Caulderwood Fior Caba has been sleeping four hours a night for the past two decades. The former schoolteacher and mother of three works nights as an office cleaner at 20 Broad St. Caba, 59, has been working at the same building-which houses offices of the New York Stock Exchange-for 25 years. "I spend more time here than my house," said Caba, 59, before greeting fellow employees and office workers like family on her way into the building for her 5 p.m.-to-midnight shift. She prides herself on being friendly and diplomatic, which has made her well known in the building. "I always try and communicate with everyone," she said. "That's why she's the best," interjected Cesar Meza, an office cleaner who has worked with her for 22 years. "She thinks different than the others." They describe themselves as each other's best friends at work. They finish each other's sentences, and often veer off into their own conversations in rapid Spanish. Meza, who is from Guatemala, said that they get along so well because she doesn't get caught up in office gossip. According to Meza, education is the key to her success. "When you go to school, you're smart. You make peace with everybody," he said. "I'm telling you, she's so smart." Caba studied education in her native Dominican Republic and taught third and sixth grades. She was a teacher for six years before moving to the United States with her husband, who found her work, at first in a dress factory and then cleaning offices uptown. Eventually, she used her business connections to move to the Financial District because the pay was better, she said. She did all this while taking care of her three young children. "When you come from another country, it's difficult," she said. She and her husband worked long hours, so her children spent many evenings with a babysitter in her building. "I would pick up my kids sometimes at 1:30," she said. After finally getting to bed around 3 a.m., she would be up early again to make breakfast for the family. Today, her children are grown up. Her daughters, 35 and 32, are accountants, and her son, 27, studies at Queensboro College. She even has a granddaughter. She gets up at 7 a.m. every day, even though she doesn't need to take her children to school anymore. Now, she spends her mornings shopping, cooking and working at Local Union 32BJ representing building service employees. She represents three buildings on Broad Street, acting as a liaison between the workers and union representatives. "I like my union because I can have a conversation with the boss, with the neighbors," she said. "Caba has always been very polite, friendly and professional," said Nicholas Errera, fire safety director at the building, who waved as she passed by. "She's always coming down here to double-check things," Errera said. "I figure she wants everything just perfect."
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