FAIRFAX, VA — More than 50 vehicles drove around George Mason University’s Fairfax campus Thursday to demand the university replace LT Services Inc. as its janitorial contractor in response to cleaning subcontractors' alleged misclassification of workers. The subcontractors' alleged practices are preventing their cleaning workers from getting access to benefits that are especially important in the age of coronavirus, according to the protesters.
The janitors, together with members of 32BJ SEIU, the nation's largest labor union for property service workers, contend LT Services may have subcontracted cleaning responsibilities to other entities that are classifying them as independent contractors, a practice that denies the workers the protection of workplace laws.
The protesters drove around GMU's campus, in the middle of a rainstorm, honking their horns, holding signs and waving flags, calling for janitors at the university to be granted fair pay, health and safety, workers comp, and unemployment insurance.
“Essential property services workers and those close to them are getting sick and dying just by showing up to work and keeping us safe during this pandemic,” Jaime Contreras, 32BJ SEIU vice president, said Thursday in a statement. “GMU should have the humanity to replace LT Services with a more responsible contractor.”
A GMU spokesman said the university is aware of the concerns but did not have any comment at this time on the protest or the calls to end the contract. LT Services Inc. had not responded to a request for comment from Patch at the time this article was published.
According to 32BJ SEIU, many of the custodial workers are immigrants and people of color who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Most workers who perform property service functions also live in low-income neighborhoods and must commute to commercial centers, airports, or more affluent neighborhoods to get to work, further risking exposure to the coronavirus on public transportation.
Consuelo Granados, an LT Services janitor at GMU, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to 32BJ SEIU. But without a salary or unemployment benefits, she is struggling to pay for food, rent, health insurance and medical bills, the union said.
The University of California Berkeley Labor Center identified janitorial services as one of the industries where misclassification is disproportionately high. In the janitorial services industry, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, subcontracting is a common practice. By misclassifying workers as independent contractors, employers can avoid paying workers compensation, social security, unemployment overtime and other payroll taxes.
Workers that have spoken with Local 32BJ representatives said they do not get taxes deducted from their wages, and the paychecks shown to the union do not indicate any payroll deductions. The workers also have said that they receive 1099 forms for tax purposes.
"We believe that this indicates they are being paid as independent contractors, since 1099 forms are generally given to independent contractors instead of W-2 forms, which are given by employers to their employees," 32BJ SEIU said in a news release.