A largely unnoticed, and perhaps underappreciated, group of workers are among the heroes who are enabling New York City to emerge from lockdown. They are on the frontlines sanitizing the mass transit system, hospitals and offices from the deadly coronavirus that will allow the city to get back on its feet.
As New Yorkers know, transportation keeps the city going. So it’s essential that trains and the numerous stations scattered throughout the sprawling MTA system are as virus free as possible. Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted recently that the job of disinfecting and sanitizing the mass transit system is “labor intensive.”
That army of workers includes the staff of Brooklyn-based Prospect Cleaning Service.
Ingrid Murray, who owns the Prospect-Lefferts Garden company, signed a contract with the MTA in March to join the transit service’s COVID-19 response initiative. Murray’s staff is sanitizing train stations on Metro-North lines.
Ridding public spaces of coronavirus involves detailed knowledge of the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines and approved products that are effective against COVID-19. Murray, a Jamaican immigrant, developed expertise over the years that placed her growing company in position during the pandemic to land that big contract.
What started with a bet blossomed into a competitive company
Murray’s husband started the cleaning company. “It was basically a one-man show,” she told Bklyner. “He was doing house cleaning and carpet cleaning, doing good business. But when I came into the picture, I wanted to go big.”
In 2011, Murray bet her husband that if she “become head of the company, I would take it to the next level. And I could make it big.”
It was easier said than done, at first. Murray’s background was in accounting, working for large firms in Jamaica. At that point, she knew more about conducting forensic audits on businesses than positioning a cleaning company to land major commercial and government contracts, which she viewed as the path toward growth, instead of limiting the company to residential clients.
Undaunted, she made significant strides by “doing things the old-fashioned way, going out and knocking on doors to find new clients and opportunities.” Murray essentially learned about the industry while building her business. She joined several industry associations, became M/WBE certified (minority and women-owned business enterprise), networked every step of the way, and took academic courses.
“Cleaning is about a lot more than knowing how to use a mop. It involves knowing chemistry and biology,” she explained.
After all of that, there was still something missing: learning how to find and bid on lucrative government contracts. Landing city contracts had eluded Murray until her company built a stellar reputation and she mastered the art of the bid. Eventually, Murray won a contract to provide cleaning services for an MTA building in New Haven, Conn., which put her company in a position to work for the agency when the pandemic struck.
What’s the future for cleaning services?
Like many other companies, the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a gut punch to Prospect Cleaning.
“We lost almost all our private clients, except for our medical centers and a construction company that was still doing business,” Murray stated.
But the company started a new chapter in its history with a call from the MTA to help with its COVID-19 response on Metro-North, from Connecticut to Poughkeepsie.
“They called on a Wednesday and wanted me to start on Friday,” Murray said. “I called all our staff that was going to be out of work the following week and went on social media to announce that we were hiring.”
Fortunately, Prospect Cleaning accumulated a large inventory of masks and other PPEs before the pandemic struck, Murray said. Janitorial staff across the city are essential workers but many lacked the proper safety equipment to protect them while doing their job.
Looking to the future, Murray predicted that cleaning companies will be recognized for their important contribution to public safety.
“People used to think that a cleaning company just comes in to clean the bathrooms and the top of desks, with one rag forever and ever, using one mop forever and ever, and your office is clean,” she said. “Now, everybody sees the implications of not having a budget for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.”