The same day a new cleaning contractor was set to take over at Brooklyn Law School, the school has announced it will be “exploring alternative arrangements” for cleaning services after outraged union workers said the would-be new contractor planned to slash their pay and cut health insurance and retirement benefits.
Seven workers and their union, 32BJ SEIU, learned last month that the school had suddenly ended their contract with Triangle Services, who have managed cleaning services at the school for about a decade, and would be bringing in a new company, Advantage Cleaners LLC, starting July 1. In talks with the workers and union representatives, Advantage repeatedly said they are a “non-union” company and would be reducing hourly wages, working hours, and benefits.
Hours after Brooklyn Paper published a story detailing the fears of the workers, who said they would not be able to pay for their homes or medical care if Advantage took over, the school announced it is “in talks with other vendors who have unionized workforces.”
“In talks with these other vendors, Brooklyn Law School has been assured that all of the employees of our former vendor will be offered positions that will include the same pay and benefits as they previously received,” a representative said in a statement. “As always, Brooklyn Law School is committed to providing a healthy and safe environment for our BLS community.”
Triangle Services will remain at the school until a permanent alternative contractor is found.
“When we heard our benefits and wages would be cut, my colleagues and I came together,” said Luis Pacheco, the night crew foreman, who has worked at the school for more than 30 years. “I am so proud of my colleagues for all the time and energy we put into raising awareness about this while continuing to work our daily overnight shifts! We depend on our healthcare and wages to get by. We are willing to fight for them.”
Students at Brooklyn Law School started an online petition — which had garnered more than 1,000 signatures as of July 1 — calling on the school to reconsider their decision to hire Advantage and stand in solidarity with workers.
“We are now in conversation with Brooklyn Law School administration, overnight cleaning staff, and representatives of 32BJ SEIU to discuss next steps as they look to contract with a union-friendly contractor to ensure the protections of the overnight cleaning staff,” said Katie O’Connell, a rising second-year law student at BLS. “It’s important to state that while we received good news today, we will not stop fighting until the new contract is finalized.”
O’Connell said she was “beyond proud” of the collective effort by students, and said the fight to organize the overnight cleaning staff embodied the school’s mission statement and dedication to community service.
“We depend on our healthcare and wages,” said crew member Efigenia Moreno, in a release.”The thought of cutting them was not acceptable to us because it’s already so hard to survive in this city.”
The union filed a complaint against Advantage Cleaners with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this week, alleging that the company was likely to discriminate against union workers or refuse to acknowledge and bargain with 32BJ, breaking federal labor laws.
Days before Advantage’s contract was supposed to begin, 32BJ’s executive vice president Denis Johnston told Brooklyn Paper it is uncommon for a contractor to break from standard pay and benefits for unionized maintenance and cleaning workers, and that there are dozens of contractors who already work with the union.
“This is proof that when workers unite and fight in this city, they win,” Johnston said in a statement after the decision was reversed. “We will continue to stay vigilant to ensure the essential overnight cleaners at Brooklyn Law School retain their union benefits and wages!”