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Posted by Anthony Olszewski on June 16, 2003 at 17:51:37:

Union Files Unfair Labor Practice Complaints Against "Employee-Ownership" Firm

By Anthony Olszewski

32BJ Service Employees International Union filed three unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against Clean Sweep, the private company that provides janitorial services for Saint Peter's College of Jersey City. The union charges that Clean Sweep "refused to bargain in good faith ... by ... reducing the work hours of employees; and ... failing and refusing to provide Local 32BJ with information... ." In an additional filing, the union maintains that the "Employer, acting through its agent, Gloria Martinez, has circulated a petition to decertify Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ." A third action concerns the reduction in work hours for two employees in retaliation for their refusing to sign the petition.

Union representative Barbara Lynch reports that their attorney plans to amend the second charge that focuses on Gloria Martinez requesting signatures for a petition. Local 32BJ's position is that as Ms. Martinez now receives $11.00 per hour (the rate of pay for most of the other Clean Sweep employees at Saint Peter's College is $7.00 per hour), Ms. Martinez in effect acts in a supervisory capacity. Because the circulation of a petition by a boss is coercive, the practice is forbidden.

Since the 1970s, Saint Peter's College contracted for cleaning services with Collins Building Services of New York. The workers' pay was $5.50 per hour; there were no medical benefits.

Gloria Martinez, a Saint Peter’s College cleaning worker employed by Collins for thirteen years, was one of the original activists who pushed for union representation. Ms. Martinez and other Collins employees appeared before the Hudson County Board of Freeholders and the City Council of Jersey City to protest the poverty wage pay.

In May of 2002, Saint Peter's College wrote the union that when the agreement with Collins ended the school then would "solicit new quotes that would include a provision requiring union pay scales." The letter ends by stating that "... Saint Peter's College has no objections to unions and has a long record of supporting social justice." Given this promise, both the cleaning crew and the union were surprised to discover that on April 1, 2003 the contract was to go to Clean Sweep building services of Newark.

In an e-mail addressed to "All Members of the College Community," Saint Peter's College Vice President of Finance and Business Joe Hartnett used these words to describe Clean Sweep:
"Clean Sweep is an employee-ownership company dedicated to social justice and good working conditions for workers in the building services industry in this area, Clean Sweep was created as a result of the efforts of 14 churches in Hudson County for the purpose of improving working conditions for building service workers. The company is committed to the welfare and best interests of everyone who works with the company. Of course, since it is an employee-ownership company, there has never been a need for a union at Clean Sweep."

Of the 30 original members of the custodial staff, Clean Sweep hired 23; 7 were let go. Clean Sweep cut the work week from 40 hours to 35. At first, Clean Sweep paid the workers $6.75 an hour. There are to be, over a period of nine months, a series of 25 cent raises bringing the compensation up to $7.50 per hour. 32BJ Service Employees International Union requires $8.75 per hour. Clean Sweep does provide a medical benefits package, but only for the individual employee. Union medical benefits extend to the worker's family. Clean Sweep offers the employees 48 weeks of work at Saint Peters each year. Annually, the crew will be laid off without pay during the remaining 4 weeks. Clean Sweep hopes to extend to the Saint Peter’s College job holders the option of paid work at other Clean Sweep locations during the nearly month long layoff.

Presently, the claim that Clean Sweep is an "employee-ownership" company is at best more good intention than either practice or reality. Clean Sweep is mostly owned by the Resurgens Foundation and the Interfaith Community Organization (ICO). For the individual worker, the possibility of ownership in the company exists only after the completion of three years of employment. Clean Sweep President Henry Mendoza states that at the current time not even one member of the work force owns any portion of Clean Sweep. He asserts that this year only a single wage earner will become eligible for ownership – himself. Resurgens Foundation Executive Vice-President Charles F. Mulligan concurs that no Clean Sweep workers are owners. But, Mr. Mulligan says that this year no employees at all will qualify for ownership. Both Mendoza and Mulligan agree that no terms have been established for the actual transfer of ownership to the workers. "That's the intention, but nothing's been worked out," explains Mendoza.

Even if and when ownership moves from the potential to the actual, it’s not exactly certain what that will translate to in dollars and cents. The shares won’t be publicly traded. Mr. Mulligan speculates that value can be assigned through expert assessment. “There are firms that do that,” he suggests.

Mr. Mulligan of Resurgens and Mr. Mendoza of Clean Sweep declare that, in addition to hourly wages, Clean Sweep workers receive profit-sharing and bonuses. Documentation relating to the actual payment of these distributions was requested several times, but never received.

Profitable, Clean Sweep is generating cash. The initial investment of Resurgens and ICO is being systematically repaid.

The Resurgens Foundation describes itself as involving “community-based organizations (CBOs), social entrepreneurs and a mix of skilled and entry-level workers in beginning and eventually owning a for-profit business.” The Resurgens Foundation Report relates that "five parishioners of St. Mary's Parish (Jersey City) founded a commercial cleaning company called All Clean Care, Inc." in February of 1998. Resurgens and the Interfaith Community Organization bought out the original Jersey City investors of All Clean Care in December of 1999. The new owners expanded the scope of the operations to include five counties and renamed the company Clean Sweep. The Resurgens Report lists no church as involved in the establishment of Clean Sweep other than St. Mary's.

According to the Clean Sweep Wage and Benefit Package for Workers, the only "social" advantage a St. Peter’s College custodian can look forward to is a 50% reimbursement for English as a Foreign Language classes "with a maximum of $400 per year.”

Resurgens Foundation Executive Vice-President Charles F. Mulligan says that janitorial workers at a Catholic school "can't expect to make the same rate of pay as at Class A office space on the Waterfront."

Union representative Kevin Brown was asked if Charles Mulligan’s assumption of varying pay scales for different locations was valid. Mr. Brown replied, "Why is that? If they are performing the same work, why shouldn't they get the same money?"

Mr. Brown also was asked if he thought the concept of employee-ownership could be a good idea, even if the implementation at Clean Sweep might be flawed. He answered, “No. There needs to be a clear distinction between employer and labor. Historically, these socialistic-utopian schemes have never worked. The workers wind up exploiting themselves.”

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