Washington, D.C. — In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton urges Pompeo to reconsider the May 1st layoff of 17 contracted cleaners following budget cuts from the Department’s Procurement Office. In addition, hundreds of State Department employees signed a petition delivered to Contracting Officer Pete Jones that reads “Don’t reduce services when it could cost my health. Keep R & R fully funded and stop the layoffs of our cleaners.”
“I am deeply disturbed by the layoff of 17 men and women who cleaned Department of State buildings were laid off on May 1st. As the Congresswoman for the District of Columbia, I request information on why these layoffs were necessary. As you may know, the Department renegotiated its janitorial contract with R&R Building Services in spring 2018, leading to a 30% reduction in cost. The effects have been dire: R&R Building Services laid off 17 janitors as a result of the cuts. These cleaners provided years of excellent service to the Department. One janitor has maintained these buildings for 19 years. Despite their dedication and vital service, the Department failed to provide any advance justification for these layoffs.
Putting these cleaners out of work will not solve budgetary challenges, but it will hurt their children and our communities. Furthermore, this contract covers the Department’s headquarters at the Harry S. Truman Building, as well as Blair House, the President’s guest house for visiting dignitaries. Because these landmarks serve as our country’s front door for foreign leaders and diplomats, it is in all of our best interest to ensure the buildings are as clean as possible. While these changes were implemented before you began your service as Secretary of State, I hope that you also recognize these cuts as an urgent problem deserving of reconsideration. I ask that you respond within 30 days explaining why it was necessary to lay off these dedicated workers.
Among the cleaners who have been out of work since Friday, May 1:
Maria Guardado – single mother of four: “I’m the only one working to pay for rent, bills. I’m worried that I will end up in the hospital or dead from an asthma attack if I can’t afford my medicine.”
Isabel Gueverra –19 years at State: a single mother living in a basement with her son. “I cry sometimes because I have a lot of medicine I won’t be able to pay for and I don’t know how I’m going to feed my son. We never complained and no one ever complained about our work.”
Bonita Williams – Over 20 years at State: a single mother of five and grandmother of eight who’s facing an electricity shut-off warning if she doesn’t pay by May 18th. “I’m so worried that I can’t even get out of bed and I’m having paralyzing headaches and nausea ever since I lost my job.”
Lillian Gonzalez – 17 years at State: “I have three grandsons and a very sick sister who all live with me and who I need to support. I have a large loan that I’m falling behind on payments – I’m sick with worry.”
Blanca Gordada – 16 years at State: a single mother caring for her daughter, also a single mother working only part-time and her three children. “I don’t know how I will pay off my loan or credit cards. I’m so afraid of losing my house that it’s been making me physically ill.”
With more than 163, 000 members in 11 states, including 18,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.
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