Bethesda, MD — Nearly 300 contracted janitors who clean and maintain the Walter Reed National Navy Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University Office have voted to authorize a strike to protest their employer’s proposal to stop paying into the workers’ pension fund. The decision by Ace Janitorial Services would undermine retirement security for cleaners, many of whom have worked at Walter Reed for decades.
“We work very hard to make sure that our nation’s veterans can recuperate from their brave service in clean and sanitary rooms, but we deserve to someday retire with dignity, said Helen Avalos, a janitor at Walter Reed. “Our job to protect the health and safety of the patients is one we take seriously, but our strike vote shows that we’re determined to do whatever it takes to ensure a future where we can make ends meet.”
32BJ of the Service Employees International Union is in negotiations with janitorial services subcontractor Ace for a contract that expires on September 30, 2016.
“By trying to shortchange janitors, this federal contractor is setting a bad precedent within a key institution of American government for employers nationwide,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President, Jaime Contreras. “Nobody wants to strike, but these hard-working men and women are willing to do what’s necessary to support their families. We must continue fighting to ensure that irresponsible contractors like Ace do not receive taxpayer money.”
While workers’ primary concerns are the health and safety of patients, this is the second employer to try to and threaten their financial security. In 2012, workers protested their previous employer’s failure to pay workers for two weeks of wages. Escab Enterprises, a federal cleaning contractor that has received over $40 million in taxpayer money since 2008, failed to pay nearly 300 janitors who clean and maintain the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University who earned just $13.97 per hour, on November 9, 2012, the workers regular pay day. Escab urged janitors to come to work even without pay that workers rely on to support their families and pay their bills.
Escab also failed to pay for benefits for over four months and workers only maintained health care benefits for several months because other low-wage workers and 32BJ floated the money to make those payments. If Escab had continue to fail to pay into this fund, workers would’ve been in danger of losing their benefits. Escab only paid janitors at Walter Reed because Navy commanders and elected officials in Maryland like Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown intervened.
With more than 155,000 members in 11 states, including 17,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.