PSU janitors leave work after conflict

    Thirteen out of 19 janitors staffed at Portland State left the job Wednesday night after a misunderstanding over required work responsibilities.

    The janitors, contracted at Portland State through cleaning company SBM, left work after being asked by unidentified SBM supervisors to do extra work in Portland State facilities, according to the worker’s union representative Silvia Ruiz. Ruiz said that the PSU janitorial staff has been understaffed at 19 persons, a full staff totaling 33 janitors.

    In the midst of contract negotiations between Portland State and the SBM janitors, supervisors told the janitors to go home because of either a misunderstanding about, or refusal to do, the extra work. Ruiz, organizer and SBM field representative for SEIU 49, said that janitors told her they were offended by being asked to do more work and by an exchange of some disrespectful language.

    The janitors, the union, the supervisors and the human resources director from SBM met Thursday night to discuss the consequences and possible discipline of the janitors from Wednesday’s incident. David Ayala, the union representative who attended the meeting, said that none of the janitors were disciplined for leaving work, that everyone would continue working, and that the janitorial staff was very pleased with the results of the meeting.

    ”We’re talking about workers who want to work for PSU and we’re talking about a company that wants to keep them at PSU,” he said. “These workers are committed to doing good work for the company that they work for.”

    Ayala, property services director of SEIU 49, said that the officials from SBM listened to the janitorial staff’s complaints and took them into consideration. He said that the company gave answers to the janitorial staff’s concerns, but declined to comment on what those answers were.

    SBM supervisors who attended the meeting declined to comment on Wednesday’s incident or the meeting. The company, janitorial staff and the union will be meeting again in three weeks, according to Ayala, to revise and re-evaluate the decisions that were made at Thursday night’s meeting.

    The union will be working on developing better communication between the union and the management, Ayala said.

    The supervisors called Portland State Public Safety to the scene near Science Building 2, but the janitors had already left by the time a public safety officer arrived. The officer left the scene without filing an incident report.