Wilmington, DE – Delaware State Representatives Debra Heffernan and John Kowalko will join over 100 workers and community supporters who will close down a block in front of M&T Bank’s Wilmington headquarters today to highlight the plight of downtown office cleaners who were unlawfully fired by Optima Cleaning Systems. 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board that Optima has refused to hire cleaners at the Atapco Christiana Corporate Center because of their support for 32BJ. In Wilmington, Optima pays cleaners as little as $7.50 per hour with no meaningful benefits, nearly $2.00 per hour below the established industry standard. M&T Bank is one of several buildings that Optima cleans.
“Wilmington’s economy suffers when companies like Optima pay poverty-like wages because they undermine standards and hurt workers’ ability to support their families and local businesses,” said Rep. Kowalko. “I urge Optima to get in line with responsible companies that treat workers with respect and provide just compensation.”
When Optima took over the cleaning contract at the Center on July 1st, the company refused to hire all of the cleaners, reduced pay and eliminated most benefits for the workers who remained. New Castle County Councilmen Tim Sheldon and George Smiley and State Representatives Stephanie Bolden and Ed Osienski are all supporting office cleaners in their protest against Optima Cleaning Systems.
“We work very hard and did nothing wrong. All we are asking is a chance to keep our jobs,” said Lilia Ramirez, a cleaner at Atapco’s Christiana Corporate Center. “I won’t be able to feed my children without a paycheck.”
“Our economy and community cannot afford irresponsible contractors that shortchange the hardworking men and women of Wilmington,” said Wayne MacManiman, 32BJ Mid-Atlantic Director. “These cleaners already struggle to make ends meet and don’t deserve to lose their jobs through no fault of their own.”
Wilmington’s poverty rate hovers at around 30 percent, nearly double the national average. Additionally, crime, unemployment, and food stamp usage rates continue to rise while real wages are falling.
32BJ members clean prominent buildings in Wilmington including the Bank of America Building, the DuPont Building, Brandywine Building, Chase Manhattan Center, Citizens Bank Center, and I. M. Pei Building.
With more than 120,000 members in nine states, including 10,000 in Philadelphia and Delaware, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property services union in the country.