No May Day off for PSU janitors

Though they sent requests to take May Day off, janitors at Portland State’s contracted cleaning company SBM said that they are being required to work on May 1, when rallies celebrating the labor movement are scheduled to occur both locally and across the nation. Some janitors also said that the company threatened to fire them if they do not come to work.

The company is contracted to clean PSU buildings through a performance-based contract, according to Robyn Pierce, interim director of Facilities. The contract means that PSU can break the contract if the company does not deliver service to the university.

The company denied May Day off to all but one janitor because of this contract and reprimanded some employees for asking for the day off, according to Portland State janitor “Alejandro,” who asked to remain anonymous because he fears he could lose his job.

Alejandro said many of the night janitors are Hispanic and a great deal of them asked for May 1 off. The company refused all but one. Alejandro said everyone filled out the proper paperwork to request the day off, a form that needs to be filed two to three weeks in advance.

“Some janitors did ask for the day off, but the supervisor and the day manager started doing write-ups,” he said. “People filled [the form] out, and they were all refused.”

The Vanguard made multiple calls to SBM Cleaning Wednesday and Thursday, but no corporate representatives were available for comment. However, in a memo to employees, the company said, “It is SBM’s policy to respect without discrimination all personal held beliefs and social causes of our employees, but these personal commitments must be conducted on their own time, or during approved absences from scheduled work.”

Zoe Birkle, a painter in Facilities and fourth-year president of the workers union at PSU, said that she had also heard rumors that some janitors had been written up. She said she heard some night janitorial crewmembers had considered taking the time off of work for May Day celebrations, but that if they did they would be fired.

“It is a work day and it would be an unexcused absence,” Birkle said.

Lewis and Clark College also has a performance-based contract with, Skyline Cleaning Service. The college originally portioned out two unpaid hours for their janitorial staff to attend the May Day rallies, but after students solicited the university president, the janitorial staff was allowed the entire workday off unpaid except for two hours, according to Sharon Hayes, operations manager of Lewis and Clark Facilities.

Both schools’ janitorial services are members of Service Employees International Union, a workers union with 1.8 million members in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, through local SEIU 49.

Hayes said the college negotiated the contract with SEIU 49 to reach the original two-hour agreement. If Portland State requested that the janitors have time off, said David Ayala, property service division director of SEIU 49, then SBM could let the janitors have the time off.

Dee Wendler, associate vice president of Finance and controller of Finance and Administration, said she remembered the PSU contract with SBM referred only to what services should be provided and not when services would be provided. She said the university is not contracted to manage the SBM janitor employees.

Pierce said no one from SBM, the union or the janitorial staff contacted PSU about giving the staff time off. She said the contract only requires certain standards of cleanliness, not a certain amount of hours worked by employees.

“We don’t require them to be on campus for any particular hours of the day,” Pierce said. “We require they clean things every day. If they propose things [about time off] to us, we would be amenable working with them.”

Ayala said the union is unable to support a strike as a union and is asking workers to attend work as scheduled. Ayala said SEIU 49 encouraged workers to ask for a leave of absence, and asked any workers who have the day off to attend the rallies, but that if workers are scheduled they should go to work.

Ayala said SBM called SEIU 49 concerned that workers would not come to work Monday. He said SEIU 49 told the company that the union made the suggestion that employees go to work.

Ayala said the only time that workers can strike legally, with the support of SEIU, is during contract negotiations with their company.

May Day is the annual celebration of the workers labor movement that helped establish the eight-hour workday. Celebrated on May 1, May Day was the original Labor Day before President Grover Cleveland shifted the celebrations to Sept. 5.

International boycotts of American products will occur in correlation with May Day because of the immigration legislation passed in the U.S. They will add to a month filled with protests and hundreds of thousands of people rallying and marching across the nation in honor of May Day.

Birkle said people will assemble for a rally on the corner of S.W. Eighth and S.W. Market near PSU. Music starts at 10 a.m., the rally begins at 11 a.m. and the march at 12 p.m.