Workers’ Conditions Cause Controversy

Leah Boynton

Since the beginning of Fall semester, conflict has surrounded the new Facility Services Partners’ (FSP) contract after the College transitioned from Sodexo Custodial Services to Flagship Facility Services. On Monday Sept. 19, the ASWC Senate invited on-campus club Poets Organizing for Workers Economic Rights (POWER) to their weekly meeting to get more information about Flagship and the worker’s concerns about their work conditions. POWER brought several laid off workers and current facilities workers to speak to the student leaders. 

After hearing multiple stories of long hours and extreme amounts of labor from the workers, the Senators appeared taken aback by the their testimonies. 

The workers spoke in Spanish and their testimonials were translated into English by Senior POWER president Andrea Perez. Former facilities employee Joe Zenteno brought forward the claims of one 70-year-old woman with a heart condition who cleans the entire Science and Learning Center every night. One 75-year-old woman claimed she was responsible for cleaning all of Harris, Campbell and Wanberg alone. Yet another, with a 17-year background working at Whittier College, said that the quality of sanitation is worse now than it was under former facilities company Sodexo. Now workers are expected to clean more bathrooms than previously assigned in shorter, 15-minute periods. One woman said that September 19 was her first day off since August 19. 

Tears fell from the eyes of sophomore Social Justice Coalition Representative Eryn Wells’ as she told the workers that their voices would not go unheard.

According to Flagship Facility Services’ Western Region Sales Manager Maureen Hill, the employees’ cleaning expectations are based on industry standards and many of the claims by the workers are inaccurate. “The claim that there is only one employee assigned to clean the entire Science and Learning Center every night is completely untrue, there are two full time employees assigned to that building, which by industry standards is sufficient to clean the building,” Hill said. “The construction company had their own cleanup crew until now, but they are now in the last phases and will no longer provide a cleanup crew.  Therefore, a temporary third Flagship custodian will be added for the next 4 weeks to assist with the additional needs created by construction.”

Flagship Facility confirmed that there is one custodian cleaning three residence halls alone, but according to Hill, the employee is only responsible for the bathrooms and common areas. As for the amount of time custodians are asked to spend in bathrooms, Flagship claims that it is not of concern. “The crew has been re-trained to use chemicals and equipment in a more effective manner than previously used, so that they can be more efficient with their time and have a better cleaning result,” Hill said.

 Hill also said that employees are working regular hours and that their wages have remained the same. “Employees are not working unusually long hours, as all employees are assigned and paid for an 8-hour shift, with the exception of on-call employees who are used for events that are scheduled at a variety of times and do not require an 8-hour shift,” Hill said.

 The College contracted Facility Services Partners (FSP) company after a decision made by a committee of College employees and two students. Facilities Service Partners will be in charge of the facilities maintenance work, Sequoia Environmental Services will manage the grounds, and Flagship Services will manage the custodial crew. “One of the things that we required when we were narrowing down to our finalist candidates, is we know that the house keepers with Sodexo were union —so we only entertained finalists who had union jobs and had worked with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which all three of the finalists did,” Vice President of Finances James Dunkleman said.

“I was invited and accepted the invitation to be a part of the selection committee for the service provider last year,” junior Maddie McMurray said. “I advocated for [FSP] to win the bid because of their expressed desire to become a integrated part of the campus community, not merely the service provider. After the meeting last night, I would like to apologize to the workers who came in, who have been laid off, and those who now have to pick up the work of three or more people due to the layoffs.  This is not the kind of contribution I expected them having to our campus community.” 

Other senators were also concerned after hearing the workers’ experiences and the ASWC Senate will be discussing treatment of workers and unclean spaces with Vice President Dunkleman through the Advocacy committee. “The issues brought forward and the testimonies shared at the Senate meeting certainly warrant further investigation,” junior Anders Blomso said. “They also call into question the integrity of the college’s commitment to community, making such a commitment a bold-faced lie at worst, and an audacious hypocrisy at best.” 

Senior and President of ASWC Senate Amer Rashid and several Senate members met with Vice President Dunkleman on Tuesday Sept. 27 to discuss possible solutions for the student’s concerns with Flagship Facilities. “I think those testimonies were courageous and I think it was particularly difficult for individuals who were keeping up with the meeting via Twitter and in-person to hear how certain members of our community are experiencing our college,” Rashid said. “We have a highly competent and dedicated [Senate] and they are going to provide a lot of legislation and dialogue at our next meeting.”

Whittier College administration feels somewhat ambushed by the Senate meeting. “No, I wasn’t aware of [POWER attending the meeting] and frankly I’m irritated that the student government would allow a one-sided presentation like that without informing administration so we could have other resources there to balance the discussion,” Vice President Dunkleman said. When asked about the allegations of mistreatment, Vice President Dunkleman said that he isn’t directly involved with their management, so he hadn’t heard about the treatment of workers.

According to SEIU representative Raphael Lieb, nine of the 25 custodial workers who previously worked under Sodexo were laid off. “Sodexo placed some people at other sites where they had openings, they hired many of the Sodexo staff, some of them found other jobs on their own, some of the people didn’t transition over,” Dunkleman said. “A whole variety of things happened in that transition process.” According to Hill however, six employees were let go in the transition from Sodexo to Flagship Facility Services. 

“Employees were furloughed based on retaining the most tenured employees, as is required by our contract with the union that represents the janitorial workers at Whittier College,” Hill said. “We have offered on-call worker status to all six of the furloughed employees, making them eligible to be called in for special event support work.  Five of the six furloughed employees have accepted to be called for on-call work.”

According to Lieb, the union is planning on taking further action with Flagship Facilities. “We are attempting to resolve our differences with Flagship though the grievance process in our contract and have filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge in connection with the matter. We haven’t ruled out taking further direct action if Flagship refuses to act in good faith.” According to Dunkleman and Flagship Facilities, the Unfair Labor Practice claim has not been filed. 

According to junior Mila Markova, there was vomit in the Hoover women’s restroom for approximately five hours on Tuesday Sept. 20. Senate Residential Hall Representative Bryceton Scurr said that students have also complained about the smell of trash in Harris, and the cleanliness of showers in both Turner and Harris.  Concerns were also brought forward at the faculty meeting on Tuesday, as faculty discussed the cleanliness of buildings with Vice President Dunkleman. 

As for any further complaints, Flagship hopes that students send their complaints to Residential Life to be addressed. “There has not been any reduction in the scheduled frequency of cleaning in public areas, classrooms and residence halls,” Hill said. “Any complaints should be communicated through the Work Order System.  Work orders are addressed as they are received subject to a priority rating.”