union square alliance
While San Francisco Sleeps, These Teams Go to Work
Each night, just as San Franciscans are finishing dinner, tucking-in children, and getting ready for their nightly routines, Block by Block (BBB) third-shift Ambassadors are showing up for work, ready to make the streets of Union Square and the surrounding blocks spic and span.
Freddie “Raven” Anderson, Operations Supervisor, and Tinea Adams, General Manager, oversee BBB Ambassador operations at San Francisco, California’s Union Square. While many of their responsibilities match those of other BBB teams throughout the country, part of their job is uniquely special to Union Square’s needs.
Like every account that BBB operates, a one-of-a-kind workplan has been created to tackle the needs specific to Union Square. A part of this plan is routine, nightly power washing. While the Union Square Alliance is approximately 26 blocks (or 1.6 miles), the actual walking distance of both sides of the streets, all block faces and alcoves in the Alliance is approximately 7.5 miles. It takes the BBB third-shift Ambassador Team about a week to power wash the entire Alliance—a distance equivalent to walking the Golden Gate Bridge about 4.5 times from one end to the other.
Around 8 p.m. each night, three to four individuals with pressure washers are deployed throughout Union Square. To prevent late-night noise disturbances for sleeping residents, attention is first directed toward residential areas. A driver is also sent out in an All-Terrain Litter Vacuum (ATLV) to pick up larger debris from streets and curbs. After the residential areas have been power washed, next come the dirtiest areas, with customer requests given precedence.
Working in tandem into the early hours of the morning, the team makes their way through the district covering a different route of the Alliance each evening. The result of all this effort? Residents, business owners, and tourists wake up to clean streets clear of debris as they go about their morning routines.
Raven says working at night comes with unique challenges, with the safety of BBB crews a number one priority. In addition to ensuring the night crews are wearing proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), Raven also touches base with all crew members throughout the night to know where everyone is and make sure everyone is accounted for. Typically, two Ambassadors will clean opposite sides of the same street, carrying walky-talkies and their company SMART devices in case they run into any issues or need to notify the Team Lead of a concern. Working in pairs adds a layer of safety for Ambassadors during this late-night work.
Other than safety concerns and preventing noise around residential areas, Raven and Tinea said the overnight Ambassador Teams encounter other issues day crews do not. On Friday and Saturday nights, Union Square comes alive with bar-goers and night life. They said it can be challenging to pressure wash while the sidewalks are busy with people. Cleaning the streets and curb-lines can also be difficult when cars are parked there, making it hard for the ATLV to get close enough to pick up debris. Despite these challenges, the Ambassadors accomplish their nightly power washing every evening, without fail.
Not only do the Ambassadors accomplish their tasks, but they excel at them, thanks to a 14-point Quality Control Audit System created by BBB. This system is a checklist for the quality of the cleaning completed in each section and by each Ambassador. It includes locations like curb-lines, sidewalks, tree boxes, alcoves/doorways, and other visible elements that need special attention in the Alliance. Cleaning Ambassadors are given a grade out of four, based on how clean each location is from a zero, unacceptable, to a four, outstanding. Individuals not performing to BBB standards are issued feedback and clarified expectations. If individuals repeatedly fail to meet expectations, they will be relieved of their position. This guarantees that the Alliance is getting the quality results they pay for.
Third-shift Ambassadors work an eight-hour shift with a 40-minute lunch break. Around 4:00 a.m., all Ambassadors return to the main operating station to clean the inside and outside of the vehicles used and debrief on the evening. This happens every single night, seven days a week.
Raven has been with BBB since 2016, having worked just about every position there is: cleaning, special projects, pressure washing, Team Lead and now Operations. Currently, because of his experience, Raven is covering as Team Lead during the night shifts at Union Square as they look to hire new supervisors.
Tinea came to work at BBB after working retail and being a stay-at-home mom. She wanted to work somewhere she could manage great people, something she is deeply passionate about. At BBB, Tinea has found somewhere she loves going to every day, where she can make a difference in the community and meet tourists from all over the world (while getting to work outside!).
Tinea believes the BBB Ambassador Team and SF Travel, another division of BBB in San Francisco focusing on tourism, are a family that works together to make Union Square clean and safe, keeping visitors coming back.
“When you walk through, how clean are our streets? They are very clean because we are doing a great job. It feels good to know we are making a difference. You can see the difference in the borders where we don’t work,” she said.
Raven shared similar sentiment. He feels it is amazing to be able to work in a world-renowned city with team camaraderie and where everyone knows you.
San Francisco’s Union Square is a bustling, historic part of the city with backdrops of quaint cable cars, large events, shopping and immense history, and BBB Ambassadors are there to keep it safe and clean for visitors and locals every step of the way—both night and day.