*Please note that some of the custodians’ responses were translated to English for the purposes of this article.
After Whittier College’s contract with longtime service provider of over 20 years, Sodexo Corporation, expired in April, the College transitioned to Facilities Services Partners (FSP). It is under the maintenance division of Flagship Facilities that 6 custodial workers were laid off, four of whom worked the night shift and two for the day shift, leaving many faculty and students concerned about the quality of cleaning offered and the welfare of the workers.
Prior to the change in contract, the College worked with a professional consulting assistance company to help make recommendations about what service provider best met the standards proposed by the College.
“FSP was found to be a company that values the treatment of its employees, suppliers and customers with dignity and respect while seeking to provide excellent services,” Vice President for Finance and Administration Jim Dunkelman said.
However, according to reports made from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representative Raphael Leib and former Whittier College custodian, this contract under Flagship will impact the amount of cleaning required by the College. “Under this new company, there has been a layoff of over 30 percent of custodians and a cut of the office cleaning, including trash removal from everyday to once per week,” Lieb said.
According to Director of Communications Ana Lilia Barraza, most of the grounds and maintenance workers that transitioned from Sodexo were rehired to work for other universities and facilities. However, none of Whittier’s Sodexo custodial workers were rehired by Sodexo leaving them to be hired under a new contractor.
Also, in response to unfair worker conditions, Dunkelman reported that the new agreement offered a pay rate of 11 dollars per hour, equal to the end pay increase that Sodexo workers received.
But according to Mora, the gardeners under FSP’s pay were cut by three to four dollars an hour.
Union representatives of both Sodexo and Flagship Facilities, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) wererequired under Union contract to hire the employees of Sodexo but only 14 custodial workers were hired due to seniority.
“We believe Flagship has been dishonest with us,” Raphael Leib, the Union Coordinator with United Workers West said. “They are saying one thing and doing another. They have laid off a lot more people than they claimed they were going to and we believe they have targeted union activists which is illegal under State Law.”
In response to the dismissal of Whittier custodians, a protest was lead by campus organization Poets Organizing Workers’ Economic Rights (POWER) on Tuesday afternoon to call on administration to reconsider rehiring the workers and to discuss the reevaluated working and cleaning requirements. Almost 30 students, union activists and Whittier residents marched from Central Park in Uptown Whittier to the Whittier College campus demanding the administration bring the custodians back to work.
“It is so important and crucial that students and Professors support this cause because we forget that those workers are part of our Poet community too,” President of POWER and senior Andrea Perez said as an endnote to the protest last Tuesday. “With new students coming in, we need to be conscious of what saving money is going to do to the quality of the campus and worker conditions. Administration needs to take responsibility as a Quaker campus and make sure that they are integrated back into this community.”
According to former Whittier college custodian of five years Guadalupe Mora, several workers that were promised work under the new agreement were laid off without notice. “I, like most of my coworkers, struggle to provide for our families and we were denied work but yet they are hiring outside workers,” Mora said. “The remaining workers are given excessive work and are being mistreated by this new company. All of these cuts in maintenance are going to hurt the quality of the campus maintenance.”
Former Whittier College custodian Guadalupe Galleta who had been working for Whittier College for ten years was given the opportunity to re-apply under Flagship but after a week was surprised to find that she was dismissed.
“I do not think we deserved it, we were working fine,” Galleta said. “I just hope they reconsider our positions and the cleaning requirements because it’s not fair to the students because they deserve a clean environment. Once a week is not enough and one worker cleaning the whole science building is too much.”
POWER is supporting campus maintance employees and urge students and faculty to get involved. The Quaker Campus will continue to investigate.