Custodian Union Rally Goes Unnoticed by Campus

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While Seattle University students were hard at work during last quarter’s dead week, studying for finals and gearing up for the spring break to come, a demonstration went unseen and untalked about for over a month, despite taking place directly on campus.

One month ago, WFF custodians at Seattle U took part in a union rally attempting to call attention to the issues they face and to bring into the public eye their ongoing negotiations with WFF Facility Services. The demonstration was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 6.

Numerous employees participated in the demonstration which took place on the afternoon of Friday, March 16. Demonstrators carried a banner with the phrase “Fighting for working families, we’re stronger together” and other smaller signs, all displaying the same message, “Seattle U tell WFF to respect their workers.”

A WFF custodian that was working in the Lemieux Library, who was interviewed anonymously out of concern for their own job security, spoke about the recent events.

The custodian said that the custodians participated in the demonstration because they are now unionized, and want to negotiate more affordable medical insurance. The custodian also stated that they are often asked to to do too much work, leading them to not be able to finish all of their assigned tasks during their scheduled hours.

Their message seems to have fallen on deaf ears thus far, as the demonstration garnered little attention around campus, going unnoticed by the majority of students and faculty alike.

When contacted for comment on the matter, University President Fr. Stephen Sundborg, S.J., stated that he was unaware of the demonstration occurring.

Seattle U employs two types of custodial staff. Residence Hall Housekeeping provides cleaning services for the residence halls only, whereas WFF Campus Custodial provides services for all other buildings on campus. WFF Campus Custodial is a contracting company, which means the workers at Seattle U work for WFF, not the university, although they provide services on campus.

The webpage on Seattle U’s website dedicated to Custodial Services provides the following description of WFF custodians: “WFF Campus Custodial includes all the people who make your office sparkle when you are not looking.”

It is not difficult to see why the demonstration and these janitors voices have been relatively invisible when this is type of language Seattle U uses to describe this group of custodians.

The WFF custodians on campus elected in October for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 6 to represent them in their negotiations for a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with their employers. WFF facility services is in ongoing negotiations with their employees.

The Spectator reached out to WFF Director of Custodial Services at Seattle U Luke Wiltshire multiple times but he declined to comment on the demonstration and ongoing negotiations.

In a statement provided by Ricardo Moreno, the vice president of human relations for WFF, it was indicated that news of the demonstration did not reach the company any better than it reached those on campus.

“WFF Facility Services did not learn of the union rally until well after the fact and the Company is not aware if any of our employees actually participated,” Moreno said. “WFF Facility Services has enjoyed a productive bargaining relationship with SEIU 6. We commenced negotiations last November and our efforts have yielded a tentative agreement [on] all but a few issues. While our negotiations remain ongoing, we are encouraged by the significant progress made at the bargaining table, to date.”

SEIU Local 6 already has an established presence on campus as the custodians who are employed directly by Seattle U are already represented by the union. These custodians provide janitorial services for residence halls. SEIU negotiated the CBA with Seattle U on behalf of these custodians.

Robert Schwartz, Associate Vice President for Facilities at Seattle U provided a statement in response to the current contract negotiations between SEIU Local 6 and WFF.

“Seattle University is not a party to the negotiation between SEIU and WFF, however, some custodians employed by Seattle University may have made a personal decision to join the SEIU action,” Schwartz said.

SEIU Local 6 is not the only SEIU Local to have negotiated with the Seattle U in the past. Adjunct faculty at Seattle U voted to join SEIU Local 925 in 2016. SEIU Local 925 primarily focuses on the unionization of those working in education. The union was the collective bargaining representative for the adjunct faculty as they attempted to negotiate a CBA with Seattle U.

While Seattle U fought vigorously to prevent adjunct faculty from unionizing, and refused to work with SEIU Local 925 to negotiate a CBA for adjunct faculty, they have worked with SEIU Local 6 without issue.

Organizer at SEIU Local 6 Fred Prockiw said that negotiations have been ongoing since December of last year, and he hopes that they will wrap up with a formal contract signed by the WFF and its workers by the end of April.

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