Mason’s Coalition for Worker Rights and American Association of University professors stage protests against union-busting tactics by current service contractors.
BY VIVIANA SMITH, STAFF WRITER
The Budd Group is a service company responsible for providing cleaning services staff at Mason. According to their mission statement, “The Budd Group strives to be a God-honoring company of excellence that safely delivers facility support solutions to meet our customers’ needs, offers development opportunities for our employees and contributes to our community.”
In partnership with workers’ union SEIU 32BJ, The Budd Group custodians Mason have attempted to form unions to advocate for improved wages and better working conditions. According to a post by UndocuMason on the behalf of SEIU 32BJ, “The Budd Group has responded by violating labor law and intimidating and retaliating against workers for their union activity.”
Following the recent termination of Angie Santiago, a Mason custodial worker provided by service company The Budd Group, members of Mason’s Coalition for Worker Rights and Mason’s American Association of University Professors, GMU-AAUP, alongside Mason students held a protest on May 1 outside of the Office of the President on the Fairfax campus to advocate for the custodial staff’s right to unionize.
“For more than three years, these workers–the women and men who clean Mason’s buildings–have tried to unionize to increase their wages and benefits and to improve their working conditions,” says Tim Gibson, President of GMU-AAU.
“These contractors have punished workers who wanted to unionize.”
In the past, Mason has seen coverage, protests and petitions addressing the issue of unfair working conditions and treatment towards Mason’s custodial staff.
In 2020, a 232 signature petition was created under the title “Help GMU Custodial Workers Fight for Better Working Conditions and Fair Wages”. According to WeareMitú in Jan. 2022, “[Mason] recently laid off 68 custodians — mostly Central American women — a few months after they demanded safer working conditions and livable wages.”
Bethany Letiecq, a co-founder of Mason’s Coalition for Worker Rights and Vice President of Mason’s American Association of University Professors, helped coordinate Monday’s protest.
Letiecq expressed the frustration of repeatedly standing up against retaliation from Mason’s current contractors. “Several years ago we had several rallies and strikes with custodial workers,” said Letiecq. “They have been under so much intimidation with threats of retaliation.”
Junior Bardia Assefbarkhi reacted to the protest and urged changes be made regarding custodial pay to hold Mason accountable.
“It is unacceptable that these hardworking individuals have been underpaid and undervalued for years,” said Assefbarkhi. “Workers have the right to form a union and collectively bargain for better working conditions, wages, and benefits. We cannot let corporations or institutions silence and suppress the voices of workers.”
In an Instagram post, AAUPMason calls on President Washington to make changes to the contractors Mason hires, stating “The National Labor Review Board has rebuked YET ANOTHER Mason contractor for violating our custodians’ rights”.
Gibson claims that despite attempts to raise the issue of Union-busting to President Washington, there have not been many changes made to protect the rights of the workers.
“When Mason’s contractors punish and intimidate workers to stop the union, they’re violating the law. President Washington knows this,” says Gibson.
“President Washington needs to adopt a responsible contractor policy. He needs to order his contractors to stop their union-busting tactics now.”
According to NorthernVirginia Magazine, in 2022, there was a protest against another cleaning contractor, Arkatype Group, regarding workers being required to do unusual labor resulting in physical pain.
“He’s announced a new contractor with great promises of improvement, and each time the contractors he hires engage in the same union-busting tactics,” says Gibson. “
We’re done with educating the administration on this.”
Mason Facilities did not respond to request for comment.
“As workers of this institution, as students, as community members, it’s just wrong,” says Letiecq. “
It’s time to demand that President Washington stand up.”