Friday, October 26, 2007

Twenty janitors employed by Red Coats, Inc., to clean Northern Virginia commercial buildings walked off the job yesterday to protest what they say is management’s interference with their efforts to join a union.

The strike in Falls Church was part of a larger effort by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to organize janitors in Northern Virginia, where union representation of janitors is sparse.

About 4,500 janitors in the District joined SEIU in 1999. Another 2,000 from Montgomery County and Baltimore joined in 2003.

“This is [part of] a series of activities that is going to be taking place in Northern Virginia as part of an organizing campaign,” said Jaime Contreras, SEIU Local 32BJ capital area director.

The union has been trying since May to organize Northern Virginia janitors.

Last week, union leaders filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Red Coats. Red Coats is a janitorial service company based in Bethesda that employs about 600 workers locally.

The complaint says the company fired workers for union activity, “interrogated employees about their union status” and “impliedly conditioned an employee’s day off on rescinding her union card.”

About 5,000 janitors clean Northern Virginia commercial buildings, Mr. Contreras said. Some of them earn as little as $6 an hour compared with more than $10 an hour on average for janitors in the District, he said. The Virginia janitors often lack health benefits that union janitors in the District and Maryland receive, he said.

“Nobody can expect a worker to support a family on $6 or $7 per hour,” said Rigoberto Mena, a Red Coats cleaner in Northern Virginia.

Striking janitors for Red Coats clean buildings such as the Skyline City Office Park in Falls Church.

Red Coats officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.

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