Janitorial employees for Moorestown schools petition to get jobs back

Workers seek redress from National Labor Relations Board.

Special to The Sun: The Moorestown school board voted to change its contractor and terminated 24 employees on June 28. Confesora Ortega (from far left), Maritza Orozco, Yadira Velazquez, Felix de los Santos (from back left), Frecia Hernandez, Luz Ortega and Luis Orozco are petitioning to get their jobs back.

It’s been almost five months since 24 Moorestown custodians were told they would be out of work after the township school district sought a new contractor for janitorial services.

The district put out a request for proposal (RFP) for custodial services on May 7 and the custodians were notified on June 15 they would lose their jobs. ABM, the previous union contractor for the schools, did not bid and its contract ended on June 30. On July 1, Healthcare Services Group (HCSG) became the custodial contractor.

- Advertisement -

The workers are members of 32BJ SEIU (Service Employees International Union). They have circulated a petition among parents in support of the workers getting their jobs back, and the union has filed charges against HCSG with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Meanwhile, the school board explained that janitorial employees are not hired by the district, but by the district’s contractor.

“(The) employees were not Moorestown Township Public School employees,” said Caryn Shaw, president of the board of education. “Unlike a lot of our other employees — like our teachers, our IT staff, our building and grounds — they all actually fall under our union, Moorestown Education Association (MEA), which is a part of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). Whereas the janitorial service we contract out.”

“They might have worked in our schools for so long just because ABM was our contractor for so long,” she added, “but if you don’t use that contractor anymore, (the) employees go with the company.”

Brent Garren, deputy general counsel for SEIU 32 BJ, said HCSG unlawfully discriminated against the workers by refusing to hire them. Under labor law, he added, if a majority of HCSG employees are union-represented workers, the contractor would have to recognize and bargain with the union.

Garren noted that the NLRB must go through a multi-step process that could take weeks, before making a final decision on what to do.

“The heart of the matter is (their) refusal to hire the incumbent workers, the majority of the incumbent workers,” Garren said.

Kevin Brown, the union’s state director and executive vice president, maintained that HCSG negotiated its own health benefits rather than comply with a statewide master agreement rate that 32BJ has in place for the workers.

Members of the board of education and representatives for 32BJ SEIU have met several times to discuss how to move forward. According to Shaw, the board has offered any employees who don’t have work right now to apply for bus driver positions. The employees say they have the support of township parents. 

“It has been a little disheartening to us, the way that the union has been portraying us and the district in all of this,” said Shaw. “We don’t feel that it is our fault (per se), and it’s just the way that the process works.”

Some of the township custodians who lost jobs have worked in the school system for two decades with benefits that included health care, paid vacation and sick time.

Luz Ortega of Pennsauken is 37 years old and eight months pregnant. She has worked in the Moorestown district for 15 years, eight of those at William Allen Middle School. According to the employees’ petition, she cannot afford medical care without insurance and will not be able to go back to her doctor.

“It’s been extremely difficult, because ever since I got here, I’ve only had two jobs,” Ortega noted. “One, for a little bit, and then this one that has been there for 15 years. And I never thought I would be treated this way.  

“I never thought I would be kicked out the way that I was.”

Luis Orozco is a resident of Pennsauken who has worked at Moorestown High School for five years and at George C. Baker Elementary School for two. He was in the process of bringing his wife to the U.S. from Nicaragua when he was terminated. 

“At the time in which we lost our jobs, I was still in the process of petitioning my wife, and 32BJ’s legal fund was helping me free of charge through all of these processes,” Orozco said.  “As soon as I lost my job, I lost that assistance.”

Orozco believes that when the school district changed contractors, no one should have been fired. But he is grateful for the support he and his coworkers have received from the community.

“When we realized that we had the support of the parents, we were like, ‘Wow, we accomplished something,’” he noted. “It was good to know we had support from some people.”

RELATED ARTICLES
- Advertisment -

Latest