At least 90 nonunion janitors walked out of their posts at USC and the USC/John T. Norris Jr. Comprehensive Cancer Center on Wednesday to protest what they claim is harassment and discrimination by the university's contractor to discourage them from unionizing.
The one-day walkout against contracting company ServiceMaster began at noon and continued into the evening, where the strikers planned to join a late-night rally near the USC campus. The demonstration was organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 399, best known for its Justice for Janitors campaign. Striking janitors, union leaders and supporters said they will march at noon today on the streets around USC before the janitors return to work this afternoon.
Representatives of SEIU Local 399 claim that ServiceMaster-employed janitors--who clean the university's classroom and administrative buildings as well as the cancer center's facilities--were harassed and denied overtime compensation when they tried to gain union representation.
Henry Lacher, ServiceMaster's director of custodial services at USC, said the allegations were "absolutely not true" and that the company has been receptive to having its employees represented by a union.
Wednesday afternoon, Samira Mijangos and other ServiceMaster employees, wearing red "Justice for Janitors" T-shirts, stood at the back entrance of the university's main custodial services building, asking janitors arriving for their shifts to join the strike.
Mijangos said she walked out because, since USC contracted with the company to oversee 150 janitors who work at the university and at the cancer center, she has felt that her job would be in danger if she were too vocal about her pro-union views.
When her employers learned of attempts to organize with Local 399, they targeted the most vocal union proponents and fired them, said Mijangos, a South-Central Los Angeles resident who has worked at USC for eight years.
Lacher would not discuss individual personnel matters because they are confidential, but said "nobody has been targeted" on the janitorial staff.
Janitor Jose Jovel, who has worked at USC for 16 years, said when his employers learned he had attended union organizing meetings, he was suddenly given additional tasks normally assigned to other janitors who did not express pro-union views.
"We don't want to go through this, but we don't have any other way to improve our working conditions and have job security," Jovel said.
Referring to the election process to determine if a majority of employees want union representation, Lacher said the employees "have every right to be represented by a union, and I welcome the process sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board."
No one in Local 399 has approached him about holding an election, he added.
The National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing regarding the complaints against ServiceMaster in February.