In the commercial janitorial industry buildings change contractors frequently and profit margins can be tight for employers as global real estate titans seek ways to trim costs. Last week the Catholic Labor Network supported janitors in Northern Virginia fighting to get their jobs back after a new contractor took over the contract and promptly fired the union workforce in order to bring in cheaper replacements.
SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 32BJ represents is a massive union representing janitors up and down the East Coast. In some markets such as Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, they represent more than 90% of commercial building janitors, enabling them to negotiate family-supporting wages and benefits. But often in the adjoining suburbs such as Northern Virginia much of the workforce remains unorganized, and union contractors face heavy pressure from nonunion competitors. It’s not unusual for a nonunion firm employing a part-time workforce to win work away from union firms taking a high-road labor approach, creating a race to the bottom.
That’s exactly what happened recently at 1950 Old Gallows Road in Vienna, Virginia. A large nonunion contractor, K&S, took over the cleaning contract from a union firm and immediately fired the existing cleaning staff. K&S has a history of labor problems – in 2019 the company was fined $1500 for firing workers who tried to organize and join the union. Other K&S workers have reported excessive workloads and late paychecks.
During the rally, union members demanded that K&S reinstate the fired workers and join the union’s master contract. After picketing the building, activists went to the K&S offices to deliver a petition but were blocked from meeting with management. The local plans to continue pressing the company to improve the treatment of their employees.