Honoring the 29th anniversary of “Justice for Janitors Day,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council member Elissa Silverman readied to join hundreds of 32BJ SEIU janitors to march downtown during Wednesday afternoon rush hour to protest a non-union cleaning contractor under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sexual harassment, after settling with the National Labor Relations Board for several federal labor charges.
“Without 32BJ SEIU, it’s likely that janitorial workers would remain at the bottom of the working class,” Mendelson said. “This is about decent wages for hard work.”
In the mid-1990s, janitors made history when they blocked the Roosevelt Bridge demanding and winning living wages, employer-paid benefits and respect.
“Janitorial workers are key behind-the-scenes players in D.C.’s economy,” Silverman said. “It‘s a challenging job for little pay, and I hope this rally will be the start of good faith negotiations that ensure they earn a living wage.”
32BJ janitors, who are marching in support of non-union cleaners employed by K&S cleaners employed by K&S Management and Supply, Inc., will soon bargain a new four-year union contract that expires on Oct. 15, 2019. K&S is an aberration in D.C., where the vast majority of offices are cleaned by companies who hold contracts with 32BJ that cover 11,000 workers in the D.C. area and Baltimore.
In 2018, K&S violated D.C. Wage and Hour Law by failing to provide workers with paychecks that indicate how much they make per hour. K&S was accused of failing to pay the minimum wage to workers in D.C. Only after workers signed petitions and asked for tenant support did K&S provide corrected pay stubs. It still remains unclear whether K&S management underpaid employees because of their questionable pay stubs.
In March, the NLRB found merit in several allegations that K&S violated the law by firing a worker, unjustly disciplining a worker in D.C., as well as committing threats, interrogations and surveillance of workers. Although K&S denied the charges, the company settled and paid over $1,500 in back pay to the discharged employee, an immediate offer for full reinstatement to his job, and posted notices of their actions.
“Before I had a union, I had to miss my parents’ funeral and couldn’t see a doctor because my boss threatened to fire me if I took time away,” said Ana Hernandez, a 32BJ member and single mother of three who cleans offices at 701 13th St. NW. “The union is so important because the better wages and benefits allow us to take care of our health and spend more time raising our kids so they aren’t out on the street.”
On June 15, 1990, more than 400 janitors in Los Angeles held a peaceful rally after contractors threw out the union, cut their pay to minimum wage and stripped janitors of all benefits. As the workers locked arms to cross the street, they were beaten back by baton-wielding police officers. Thirty-eight marchers were wounded and arrested, and since then, June 15 has been memorialized as “Justice for Janitors Day.” Today, more than 134,000 union janitors nationwide are united to win strong contracts to benefit all communities.
With more than 173,000 members in nine states, including 20,000 in the D.C. metropolitan area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers’ union in the country.