Labor & Business

General Assembly has chance to pay janitorial and security workers a fair wage

“Essential janitors and security officers have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Caceres through an interpreter. “We’ve risked our lives and the health of our families to keep others safe, going to work day after day even before vaccines were available. Many of us have caught COVID, myself included. I was lucky that I didn’t get very sick, but so many essential workers have gotten very sick or even died from this terrible disease. We need more than thanks. We need strong, fair jobs with wages that keep up with inflation and benefits that allow us to take care of ourselves.”
Photo for General Assembly has chance to pay janitorial and security workers a fair wage

Published on February 9, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

After two years of a covid pandemic, the Rhode Island General Assembly is finally starting to seriously consider wage protections for janitorial and security workers – just two classes of essential workers left out of previous considerations. The proposed legislation (H7200) would require that standard wages be paid to janitors or security guards working under state contracts that include $1,000 or more of janitorial or security services. A version of this bill passed last session in the Senate, but died in the House.

The bill requires that the standard wage be the highest of the rate determined by the United States Department of Labor for Providence County under the Service Contract Act of 1965; or the wage established by the largest collective bargaining agreement covering at least 100 building service employees performing either janitorial or security guard services, as applicable, in Providence County; or at least $15 per hour. It would also require that overtime rates of 1½ times the hourly wage be paid for work beyond 40 hours a week or eight hours in a single day.
The bill would apply to all contracts entered into by any state entity that include $1,000 or more of janitorial or security services, and includes provisions to fine violators and allow civil action by victims of violations.

Leaders of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and affected workers who would be protected by the legislation spoke in favor of it at today’s event.

“Implementing a standard wage would allow essential workers who have been through so much throughout this pandemic to have access to decent pay and strong benefits for themselves and their families,” said Roxana Rivera, executive vice president of 32BJ SEIU. “Rhode Island would be able to retain skilled, well-trained workers to do the crucial work of keeping our office buildings, transportation centers, state courts, community colleges and Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport clean and safe. This bill is good for essential workers, good for our communities, and good for our entire state!”

Rivera, who emceed the press conference, introduced Laura Caceres, a janitor and member of 32BJ SEIU, who delivered her remarks in Spanish. “Essential janitors and security officers have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Caceres through an interpreter. “We’ve risked our lives and the health of our families to keep others safe, going to work day after day even before vaccines were available. Many of us have caught COVID, myself included. I was lucky that I didn’t get very sick, but so many essential workers have gotten very sick or even died from this terrible disease. We need more than thanks. We need strong, fair jobs with wages that keep up with inflation and benefits that allow us to take care of ourselves.”

“Janitors and security guards are essential workers who perform tough jobs, but they are often not treated with the decency, respect and pay they deserve,” said Representative Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence), who is the prime sponsor of the House bill. “Just like other essential workers, they’ve worked throughout the pandemic, risking their own safety and that of their families, and generally for low wages. They deserve better wages and protections, because we all rely on them.”

“Many of the workers affected by this bill have physically dangerous and demanding jobs at the best of times,” said Senator Sandra Cano (Democrat, District 8, Pawtucket), who is the bill’s prime sponsor in the Senate. “During the pandemic, those risks have multiplied. They deserve to be fairly compensated for their work and for the risks to which they are exposed every day. Their work keeps the rest of us safe, and their wages should better reflect how much we rely on them.”

Another issue brought up at the press conference concerns USENTRA-RIBI contracted workers who serve as security for Providence Community Health Centers and ASM Global contracted workers who serve as security for the Rhode Island Convention Center. These workers have been asking their contracting employer to meet with them to discuss their concerns about pay and benefits, but have not received a response. Given this lack of a response, over a dozen legislators are sending a letter to leaders from the Providence Community Health Center and the Rhode Island Convention Center asking that they tell their contractors meet with their security workers to discuss their concerns.

“I wanted to make a career out of security, but unfortunately, the low pay of just $13 an hour coupled with relentless mistreatment made it impossible for me to stay,” said Jonathan Hart, a former security officer. “I live with my mother and am the only one in the household working, so my family is depending on my earnings. Now, I’m driving Uber while I try to figure out what to do next. Passing fair standards for essential workers, including security officers, is personal for me. If this law was already on the books in Rhode Island, I would still be doing the work I enjoy. Doesn’t Rhode Island want to retain skilled and dedicated security officers to keep our businesses and general public safe?”

Neil Condon, a former airport security officer, spike about bad pay, lack of benefits and unfair worker relations that cheated him when he worked at the airport. “I have a pre-existing medical condition,” said Condon. “I was not able to afford medical expenses or take care of my children.”

Patrick Crowley, Secretary Treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO offered strong union support for the bill.

“Despite the essential work of our security guards who have been working throughout this pandemic to keep our health centers and convention center safe from any threats and harm, they continue to be ignored by their employer,” said Representative David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence), who is cosponsoring the House bill. “This is disrespectful and wrong. The work of being a security guard is demanding and at times, even dangerous. Our security workers deserve a voice at the table when it comes to their working conditions, compensation, and benefits. With the cost of living in our state continuing to increase, it’s important that the wages and benefits of our Rhode Island security workers are keeping up and that begins with an honest conversation between workers and employers.”

Final words from Rivera:

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