About 70 janitorial workers from the Fort Belvoir military base have gone on strike to protest hours, wages and benefits they say are being unjustly cut, prompting both a local union and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Dist. 8) to seek action on their behalf.
The workers are employed at the military base through a contract held by contractors Brown & Pipkins/Acsential of Atlanta, Ga. They allege that the contractor is attempting to reduce their contracted hourly wages and have also attempted to reduce the hours of many workers in an effort to not have to provide full-time benefits such as bereavement leave and pensions.
Calls and emails seeking comments from Brown & Pipkins/Acsential and Fort Belvoir were not returned.
Eva Aleman, 43, is a single mother of three from Lorton who says her contracted 40 hours a week at $13.80 per hour are being unlawfully reduced to 35 hours a week at $11 per hour, and that both her vacation days and sick leave time are being cut in half. “I can’t afford to lose the hours, the money or my benefits,” she said.
Charges filed with both the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Dept. of Labor by local union 32BJ SEIU against the contractor also allege that the company has both disciplined and terminated some workers for protected union activity, and allegedly coerced at least one worker to change their work status.
“B&P has forced at least one worker—under the threat of discharge—to sign an employment agreement allegedly changing her status from employee to ‘subcontractor.’ We believe that this change in status is invalid as a matter of law and should be investigated and corrected,” wrote Katy Dunn, associate general counsel for the union.
“Too many federal contractors like Brown & Pipkins try to break the law and mistreat hard-working janitors,” said 32BJ SEIU Capital Area Director, Jaime Contreras. “Nobody wants to strike, but these men and women are willing to do what’s necessary to support their families.”
Rep. Moran has written a letter to Fort Belvoir Commander Col. Gregory D. Gadson, asking him to rectify the situation. “The allegations are serious and disturbing, and as a result I respectfully request that you investigate the matter and, if appropriate, immediately terminate the installation’s contract with Brown & Pipkins/Acsential,” he wrote.
On Feb. 21, nearly all 70 janitorial workers picketed in front of Fort Belvoir, holding signs, blowing whistles and blaring their complaints through vocalizations and the blowing of vuvuzelas.
“I work very hard without complaints, all I ask is for a fair chance to get my job back,” said Dionicia Gomez, who is one of five janitors--all over 40 years old--who were laid off from their duties at Fort Belvoir on Feb. 1. “It’s hard to get by as it is, but without a paycheck, I don’t know how I’ll support my family.”