After several meetings with American Building Management (ABM) officials over the past two months, University janitors won the retraction of a hostile and possibly illegal instruction. The Dec. 8 memorandum in question outlined the method for resolving complaints in the workplace, and contained a clause threatening disciplinary action for non-compliance.
“All those who do not comply with this regular conduct will be subject to disciplinary sanctions,” read the note.
After a concerted effort by the janitors along with several Wesleyan students, ABM retracted the language in the memo that the janitors claimed violated a section of the National Labor Act and issued a less contentious version.
The memo was sent by ABM District Manager Peter Caniano after the janitors went to the University’s administration with complaints. Before Thanksgiving ABM informed its workers they would not be allowed to take a vacation day the Friday after the holiday. The janitors balked and contacted the liaison between ABM and Wesleyan, Jeff Miller, for help. The administration intervened and persuaded ABM to allow the janitors to receive their vacation day. No official agreement was reached, however, on whether or not workers would be allowed to use their vacation days in the future.
On Dec. 9 and 10, the janitors met to discuss the Dec. 8 memo and with the help of Union Steward Gloria Tobon a meeting was scheduled with Caniano for Dec. 13.
Additionally, Alex Early ’07, a member of United Student-Labor Action Coalition (USLAC), heard about the meeting from some of the janitors and contacted several student groups, encouraging them to attend the meeting.
“USLAC has a long history of working with the janitors,” Early said.
At the meeting, both the language of the memo and the availability of vacation days during holiday weeks were discussed. The janitors wanted the right to take their vacation days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. They were also upset that they were verbally pressured into taking vacation days before Christmas for fear of losing them completely.
“The idea has always been we’ve had these days off, from noon Dec. 21 until Jan. 2,” said Herminia Duran, who works in the Hewitt Dorms. “Why is it now a problem?”
Caniano agreed that in the past workers were allowed to take vacation days, but insisted the University was now demanding more services. He argued that using temporary workers, as used in the past, could not solve the problem because they were unreliable and had to be trained. The full-time staff members, however, were skeptical.
“Who doesn’t know how to clean a bathroom?” Duran said.
The meeting adjourned with Caniano agreeing to take the worker’s complaints to his superiors and to reassess the need for workers between Christmas in New Year’s Eve.
ABM ultimately denied the workers the right to take vacation days between Christmas and New Year’s. Thirteen days after the meeting, on Dec. 26, Early, on behalf of USLAC, filed an Unfair Labor Charge with National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), claiming the language used by ABM in the Dec. 8 memo violated the National Labor Act.
The NLRB initiated an investigation, and on Jan. 13 Caniano met with Jose Rodriguez, a representative for the University janitors, informing him that a new memo would be issued minus the endnote. This new memo was issued Jan. 20.
“From our perspective, the parties resolved the issue, and the case was closed,” said John Cotter, Assistant Regional Director of the Hartford Region NLRB.
While the janitors were satisfied with the new version of the memo, the future use of vacation days and other issues are still up in the air. On Jan. 24, representatives from ABM including Caniano met with several janitors. No issues were resolved, the dialogue was continued, and the two sides agreed to meet again Feb. 11.
Caniano declined to comment for this article.