After the recent termination of Parkmerced janitors and handymen, the former staff and their supporters picketed April 23 for the second time in two weeks.
When Preferred Building Services replaced Villas Parkmerced Maintenance Management as contractor, 32 employees’ contracts were terminated April 10. Parkmerced residents received an email from management discussing a contractor and staff transition after a demonstration that took place on the same day by the former employees.
The email stated that the previous contractor, Villas Parkmerced Maintenance Management, union representatives for United Service Workers West and the affected employees negotiated and agreed on a severance package.
“The union encouraged its members to take the severance payout and benefits and to resign from employment at Parkmerced,” said the email to residents. “Every worker chose to take the severance package. No one was fired or terminated.”
The email sent to the residents articulated Parkmerced’s stance on the issue, according to P.J. Johnston, Parkmerced’s public relations consultant.
“The union for the janitors actually negotiated the terms of the severance with our subcontractor, VPM,” Johnston said in an email, “And every single janitor and handyman signed the agreement and took a generous payout.”
Romil Domingo, a former employee on the janitorial staff at Parkmerced, disagreed with the statement in the email.
“They forced us to quit,” Domingo said. “You take it or not, the outcome will be the same. They just want us out of here.”
Employees were told not to return to work after their lunch break on their last day, according to Mauricio Sandoval, foreman of the handymen before he was terminated. Sandoval said that he, the janitors and the handymen still do not know why they were let go.
“That’s what I need an explanation (for),” Sandoval said. “I think everybody’s asking the same question, ‘Why did we get fired?'”
Emmanuel Eric, a member of USWW board of executives, said that nothing has happened regarding negotiations since they last picketed April 15.
“(Preferred Building Services) are not feeling our pain,” Eric said. “They see a dollar sign. They don’t see the loyalty, the hard work that these people have been giving to them.”
Preferred Building Services terminated the staff’s contracts and did not offer work to the former janitors and handymen, according to Colin O’Leary Union Organizer and Representative of USWW.
Marcia Laidlaw-Bolt worked as a janitor at Parkmerced for more than 20 years and said she was on track to retire in eight years, but is now jobless.
“I enjoy working here– that’s why I’ve been here 23 years,” Laidlaw-Bolt said, “I would love to come back. All the people that live here, they know me very well, they love me, they want me to come back.”
Supporters of the USWW picketers included the Labor Union Council and the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, who both had members such as Karl Kramer attend in solidarity.
Kramer said that he disagreed with Preferred Building Services’ treatment of its employees.
“Whatever we can do to help support them, just lend our voices,” Kramer said. “(Preferred Building Services) is a company that should not be doing business in San Francisco.”
Julian Lagos, a 22-year resident of the neighborhood, said that he and other residents are considering petitioning to the rent board for a decrease in rent because of the lack of service. To Lagos, the janitors and handymen provided an important service that he said was taken away from the residents without notice.
“I’m outraged by what (Parkmerced) is doing by hiring all these non-union employees at minimum wage and not willing to extend union recognition to these workers,” Lagos said. “I know tenants are outraged here because they’re getting a reduction in service.”
Sheila Tully, president of the California Faculty Association at SF State, said the CFA supports the actions of USWW.
“CFA-SFSU stands in solidarity with the unionized janitors and handymen who were terminated,” Tully said in a statement via email. “We join with other unions and community organizations and call on the new contractor, Preferred Building Services, to rehire these longtime employees and honor their union contract.”
Executive Director for the San Francisco Labor Council Tim Paulson attended the protest and said that it made no sense for the janitors and handymen to be laid off without notice.
“It’s cruel; it’s business people at their worst,” Paulson said. “The developer who owns and is redeveloping more stuff in Parkmerced has picked the wrong groups to fight with.”
SF State sophomore Andy Sandoval was among the protesters. Sandoval’s father was the former foreman of the handymen who were dismissed. He said his father has been without a job for nearly two weeks, which Sandoval said has affected his him and family.
“He was hurt, our family is hurt right now,” Sandoval said. “My dad needs a job. It’s tough, but we’re out here protesting for justice.”