Raidizon Mercedes of Riverdale worked as a custodian for 14 years to help clean the U.S. Census Bureau offices in Suitland.
Mercedes, father of three children, said his daily eight-hour shift decreased 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, July 15. “What’s going on is not right.”
He joined at least two dozen colleagues and members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ to protest Alutiiq’s decision to not maintain a current contract for workers to keep their same full-time work hours. In addition, the firm cut health care, pension and other benefits.
Mercedes and his colleagues are deemed essential workers who continued to work through the coronavirus pandemic that affected the D.C. region 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 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 got 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 not only supporting her family in Prince George’s County, but also in El Salvador.
If negotiations continue to falter, then the next step will be to involve congressional officials. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) represents the 4th Congressional district that includes the location of the Census Bureau.
“This is going to escalate if [Alutiiq doesn’t] do the right thing,” Contreras said.
Twitter: @jabariwill

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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