Steve Kelley spends his nights working more than twenty stories up. It can be scary sometimes—all alone, high off the ground in Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center—especially when he can see lightning flash through the huge windows. But most often it’s peaceful, says the union janitor with SEIU 32BJ: “Just the work and me.” Night work is essential to the economy, but it can often be invisible, even hazardous.
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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while just three percent of all American workers across the country are on the job at 2 a.m., as many as one in five Americans work sometime in the evening or at night, or on a rotating shift. These workers experience higher rates of depression, cancer and fatigue; studies suggest that night shift workers grow to feel socially isolated because they miss the general hubbub of daytime interaction. But for some, non-standard work hours allow them more autonomy or to care for their children.
The potential gains, risks and challenges of the night shift are far from abstract for the people who take them on; the evenings are full of individual worries, hopes, and sometimes, serenity. In this episode of Still Working, we talk with four people who make a living punching in while the rest of Pittsburgh sleeps: a baker, an emergency room physician, a reporter and Kelley, the janitor.