CommunityWilliam J. Ford

Census Bureau Workers Protest Cut Hours, Benefits

Raidizon Mercedes worked as a custodian for 14 years to help clean the U.S. Census Bureau building in Suitland, Maryland.

Mercedes, a Riverdale resident with three children, said his daily eight-hour shift was cut by half more than a month ago after Alutiiq Logistics and Maintenance Services (ALMS) took over as the contracting cleaning company for the bureau.

“I have a family to take care of. I have bills to pay,” he said outside the Census Bureau on Thursday. “What’s going on is not right.”

He joined at least two dozen colleagues and members of the Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to protest Alutiiq’s decision not to renew a contract guaranteeing workers full-time hours, health insurance, pension and other benefits.

Mercedes and his colleagues are deemed essential and have continued to work through the coronavirus pandemic since March 2020.

Jaime Contreras, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said the contractor seeks to eliminate parts of the contract that harms immigrant workers.

One example, he said, would be removing temporary protected status.

The designation granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are for those who flee other countries due to natural disasters, conflicts and other extraordinary circumstances. When they arrive, those individuals can receive a work permit and are free from deportation.

Contreras said the current contract allows those workers up to 90 days to deal with issues such as immigration before they lose a job. Some of the more than 40 workers are TPS holders.

“That’s union-busting,” he said. “It’s shameful and its workers deserve better than that.”

Will Powell, a public relations officer with the General Services Administration’s Mid-Atlantic region, said in an email Alutiiq’s cleaning contract for Census Bureau went into effect on June 1.

Malia Villegas, senior vice president of community investments with Afognak Native Corp., released an emailed statement and said Alutiiq received a contract award from the GSA in March. Alutiiq is a subsidiary of Afognak headquartered in Alaska.

“Following the award of the contract, ALMS worked with the incumbent workforce in accordance with its plan to employ as many of those individuals as possible, and it did so at a success rate of 91%,” Villegas said. “ALMS is adhering to all aspects of the Service Contract Act and has effectively maintained its employees’ wages and fringe benefits to include paying contributions previously paid into each bargaining member’s various union funds.”

Villegas said negotiations with the union continue.

Rosa Pereda of Forestville, who’s conducted custodial service at the Census Bureau for 20 years, said her daily work hours were cut from eight to six. Pereda, who spoke Spanish as Contreras translated in English, said Alutiiq wants to decrease sick days from 18 to 12.

Pereda “has been depressed” and became emotional as she talked about supporting not only her family in Prince George’s County but in El Salvador as well.

William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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