Janitors who are part of the Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ protested K&S Management Services, a Vienna-based non-union cleaning contractor, yesterday (June 6) in Tysons.
With 75,000 commercial office cleaners’ contracts set to expire this year, Jaime Contreras, the vice president for 32BJ SEIU, told Tysons Reporter that the union will help with bargaining.
“Today we are focused on K&S, which is the largest non-union cleaning company in Virginia — also a company who is known to violate workers’ rights to organize on the job,” Contreras said. “They were found guilty by the National Labor Board of firing a worker for simply trying to organize on the job.”
That former K&S worker, Geofredo Castro, told the crowd in Spanish and with an English translator that he decided to organize his workers with 32BJ because “there were lots of injustices and they didn’t pay us a fair salary and we didn’t get almost any benefits.”
“I went to the K&S office to give them the petition that I signed with my coworkers but afterward, they fired me unfairly,” the translator said. “With the help of the union, last month we won our case against K&S, and they were obligated to pay me $1,500 for all of the labor violations they committed against our workers.”
32BJ SEIU filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that K&S was engaging in unfair labor practices, which included Castro’s firing. K&S settled in May.
In an unrelated incident, a K&S employee filed a sexual harassment claim in January against a supervisor at a worksite in D.C.
Julia Karant, a spokeswoman for the union, said that 32BJ SEIU hasn’t heard from K&S about the allegations and said that the company is under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sexual harassment.
K&S said in an emailed statement to Tysons Reporter:
K&S respects its employees and their right to engage in concerted activity. However, as far as K&S is aware, no petition has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board to initiate the process for voting in which the employees are given the opportunity to participate in a free and fair election to determine if they want to be represented by the union. K&S has voluntarily agreed to take steps to ensure that the employees’ rights are protected.
K&S takes charges of sexual harassment seriously and strives to provide an environment that is safe and provides equal opportunities for all employees. We try to prevent sexual harassment, and if claims of harassment are made, we will investigate and take appropriate action. Beyond that, we cannot comment on specific charges filed by individual employees.
Around 4:30 p.m., the protesters shouted in English and Spanish “K&S, shame on you” and “When we fight, we win” as they made their way from 1800 Tysons Blvd to 1751 Pinnacle Drive — one of the Tysons buildings that K&S cleans.
Del. Ken Plum (D-36th District), who stood out with his orange shirt in a crowd of purple, told the protesters that he is fighting for “fair work, fair pay” in “the center of wealth in the United States.”
“It doesn’t get any wealthier than this,” Plum said. “But the question is, whose wealth is it?
Dalia Palchik, a candidate for the Providence District seat on Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, also joined the rally.
The protest was the first big protest against K&S by 32BJ SEIU and more are in the works, Contreras said.
“I think the goal here is to bring K&S to the table to meet with us and have a productive conversation about how to raise standards for these workers and how to respect workers on the job,” Contreras said, “but also to call attention to the rest of the industry in the area that our contract is up and we’re going to be fighting for better wages.”