New contractor at Brooklyn Law School means pay cuts, loss of insurance for union workers • Brooklyn Paper

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Brooklyn Law School’s unionized custodial staff face a dramatic pay cut and lose benefits after the school abruptly terminated its contract with the company that had long provided cleaning services.

In early June, Triangle Services, the contractor the school has used for about a decade, informed 32BJ SEIU – the union that has represented the seven-member night cleaning crew for about 30 years – that the school had terminated his contract and that it would end on June 30.

Employees later learned that the school had signed a new contract with Advantage Cleaners, LLC, effective Friday, July 1. According to workers and union representatives, Advantage plans to cut employee wages by up to $13 an hour and won’t offer health insurance, vacation or retirement benefits.

“We are a non-union company, that’s all, that’s all.”

Luis Pacheco, the night shift foreman who has worked at the school for more than 30 years, said his regular communication with his supervisors at school suddenly dried up a few weeks ago.

“I used to send emails every day, and they would respond, but then…they don’t respond to me,” Pacheco said. “I called my big boss, and I mentioned it, and they said, no, it’s fine, no complaints.”

A call from his union representative broke the news to Pacheco, whose wife also works on the night shift.

During a meeting with the new company, Pacheco learned that his salary would be reduced from $30 to $17 an hour and that his health insurance, pension benefits and vacation would expire 30 days after the takeover. ‘Advantage.

“They told me if I wanted to keep my benefits I would pay for it, but they’re not paying anything,” Pacheco said. “[They said,] “We’re not going to pay vacation or sick leave, whatever you have. We are a non-union company, and that’s it, that’s it.

Luis Pacheco, the night shift foreman, handed out flyers about the worker’s plight outside Brooklyn Law School days before the new contractor took over. Simon Davis-Cohen/32BJ SEIU

He later found out that the company had told other employees — who, apart from Pacheco and his wife, were all having separate meetings — that their full-time hours could be reduced to 30 or 35 hours a week. Additionally, Advantage said Pacheco and his team should download a monitoring app to their cell phones so their new employer can track their location. Pacheco’s cell phone, he said, was provided by Triangle and he must return it. It was unclear if Advantage would give him a new phone.

On June 28, three days before Advantage’s contract began, 32BJ filed a complaint against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that while Advantage did not discriminate against unionized employees, they had repeatedly said that This was a non-union operation. , and would probably illegally refuse to bargain with the union.

Under the Displaced Building Services Workers Protection Act, Advantage Cleaners is required to offer employment to existing staff for 90 days after the new contract takes effect.

While the law does does not require new owner to accept existing labor agreements, federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against unionized employees or refusing to bargain with union representatives.

32BJ employees in New York earn an average of $59,000, said Denis Johnston, the organization’s executive vice president and chief business officer. The benefits package, including health insurance for the employee’s spouse and dependents, is worth around $90,000.

It’s not uncommon for an institution like Brooklyn Law School to launch an offer for contractors in an effort to save a little money on a contractor’s markup – they can choose a company that marks up the price of services 3.5% instead of 5%, he said.

Usually, when a new entrepreneur takes over, very few changes.

“The vast majority of building owners and institutions in New York City pay the kind of industry-standard salary and benefits that is really…it’s a contractual standard that applies to the entire city,” Johnston said.

The name on paychecks and uniforms changes, he said, but the pay, benefits and hours remain the same. The fact that Advantage was not affiliated with 32BJ was an immediate red flag, he said – many similar companies have existing agreements with the union and would have maintained the previous agreement.

Johnston tried for a few weeks to get in touch with Advantage CEO Omar Miller, he said.

“When I was talking to Advantage, they said, ‘We would love to be able to pay those wages and benefits, but based on the wages they submitted, that won’t be possible,'” Johnston said.

Advantage Cleaners did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and the person who answered the number listed on the NLRB complaint for Miller’s cell phone said Miller was not there – and had just spoken. to the reporter, who had previously called a different number. listed on the company’s website.

Brooklyn Law School staff and students respond

Hasije Demirovic, a 32BJ member for 38 years and a housekeeper at Brooklyn Law School for nearly 19 years, said she was completely surprised by the news.

“I’m shocked, all of us, all of my colleagues,” she said. “We are in shock, we did not expect this at all.”

Demirovic supports her husband, who is retired, and faces a $12 pay cut.

“We also have a mortgage, about $2,000, and I’m on medication, my husband was sick last year, he had a stroke and had surgery,” she said. “Without benefits, I don’t know how we’re going to get by.”

Pacheco is diabetic and relies on his existing health insurance to cover his regular medical appointments and medications, he said. He was due to take five weeks off for surgery from July 1, he said, but he is unsure now whether he can take all the time – or pay for the operation.

hasije demirovic with yellow sign outside brooklyn law school
Hasije Demirovic has worked at Brooklyn Law School for nearly 19 years and said she doesn’t know how she will pay her mortgage or medical bills under the new contractor. Simon Davis-Cohen/32BJ SEIU

Brooklyn Law School dean Michael Cahill said in a June 27 email to the student body that “a number” of students have come in contact with concerns about the switch to Advantage and its impact on the seven workers.

“To provide further details, we understand that the seven employees who worked for the former law school cleaning service provider were offered employment with Advantage, and that all seven accepted the offer of Advantage,” Cahill wrote. “The law school respects the right of these employees to accept or refuse employment with Advantage, as well as their right to choose or refuse union membership.”

More than 1,100 people have signed a petition started by Brooklyn Law School students calling on Cahill to reverse his decision to hire Advantage.

“Completely embarrassed to be a BLS student. Do better,” one signer wrote.

In a statement, a representative said the law school recognizes the issue as “a matter between Advantage Cleaning LLC and 32BJ SEIU,” based on the complaint filed by the NLRB.

“Brooklyn Law School in no way harbors anti-union animosity,” the rep said. “Brooklyn Law School respects the right of employees to choose whether or not to be represented by the union.”

It’s unclear if or how negotiations with Advantage will proceed, Johnston said. The NLRB will investigate the company now that a complaint has been filed, and it has urged the school to reconsider its decision by July 1.

An uncertain future

“Human lives are at stake here,” he said. “Nobody gets rich on $60,000 a year in New York. The idea that these workers are being asked to see their wages reduced to $38,000 a year is simply outrageous.

Pacheco said he was resigned to waiting to see what happened on July 1. He can’t afford to pass on his job despite the pay cut, he said, but his new salary isn’t enough to pay his New Jersey mortgage. home and he fears being fired after the 90-day grace period.

“I have in mind, maybe they want to use me for a few weeks and then fire me once they know the building,” he said. “I know what the game is, the game is they’re trying to get me out. They want to offer me something, $17 for a few weeks, but with that money I can’t pay my mortgage.

Demirovic accepted. She has to keep her job, but without benefits, she doesn’t know how she can pay for her husband’s medical care and medicine. But quitting smoking is an even scarier prospect.

“Where am I going to find a job? I’m old, it’s not my time to retire, where will I find that other job? Looking for a job in the union is so difficult for me now, at this kind of age,” she said. “Take the union and put us back as we were. It’s our only hope. »

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