Students, staff and local labor unions show up to advocate for Mason’s custodial workers, who have alleged poor working conditions
BY LAURA SCUDDER CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Members of the Mason community gathered in the University Mall parking lot to caravan to support Mason’s custodial workers on Thursday, March 18. Staff have spoken out about the poor working conditions they faced with Mason’s custodial contractor: L.T. Services.
The event was organized by UndocuMason (formerly Mason Dreamers), Mason’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors and a local branch of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union, the Northeast-concentrated division of SEIU, a labor union dedicated to helping underpaid workers be part of the U.S. and global economies.
The three groups also comprise the GMU Coalition for Workers Rights.
“We are working together to clearly call attention to the working conditions of our most vulnerable workers on our campus,” said Bethany Letiecq, an associate professor who serves on the executive committee of GMU-AAUP.
More than 30 cars joined the line that drove around Patriot Circle — some cars containing multiple people — for about half an hour.
L.T. Services is an organization which offers janitorial services to larger facilities, and contains subcontractors through which some of Mason’s janitorial staff are employed. On Feb. 22, President Gregory Washington announced an outside audit of L.T. Services by CPA firm Baker Tilly.
This announcement came following both an article in the Washington Post which detailed the troubles of Consuelo Granados, who works on Mason’s Arlington campus, and an op-ed in the Post by Letiecq and Interim GMU-AAUP President Tim Gibson.
SEIU 32BJ has filed four complaints to the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the custodial workers against L.T. Services — two of which have already been settled.
Granados was present at the event. She was sick with COVID-19 for five months, and fell behind on her rent and bills. When she was able to work, Granados said she was not provided with any personal protective equipment.
Granados hopes that working conditions will improve as a result of the caravan and the help
Stephanie Montiel, another custodial worker with L.T. Services at Mason reiterated Granados’ words about PPE. She also claimed that her paychecks came late. She is supposed to be paid on the 2nd and 16th of every month, but said that she would often have to wait for her pay — and with rent and bills, this was an issue.
Montiel expressed gratitude for those who showed up to the caravan as well.
“It’s good that they’re helping us fight for our rights and for benefits that we don’t have,” she said. “And it helps us keep fighting for the benefits and the rights that we don’t have.”
Paola Choque Villarroel and Freddy Lopez were two students involved in the demonstration. Choque Villarroel is the external president and Lopez is the internal vice president of UndocuMason, which aims to created an inclusive environmental for undocumented immigrants.
When UndocuMason heard the allegations of poor working conditions — and discovered that some of the workers were undocumented — the group knew it had to get involved.
“Our custodial workers … have to buy their own PPE,” Choque Villarroel said. “They are being talked to disrespectfully, they’re being yelled at and all that. Whenever they do go to work, sometimes they don’t even get paid on time.”
Lopez encouraged students to continue amplifying the workers’ voices.
“If you have a platform on social media, even if you just have like 100 followers, that’s 100 people that are reading about this effort as a result of your tweet, as a result of your Instagram post, as a result of you sharing your story,” Lopez said.
He continued, “It is [these] custodial workers that are making sure that our campus stays open. These students should show respect and students should show solidarity with the people … that we owe our current campus — the disinfection of our campus — to.”
Letiecq also expressed the importance of supporting Mason’s custodial workers, who have been on the front lines of the pandemic.
“Custodial workers are essential to keeping our buildings, our offices, clean and safe, so that we can return to campus,” Letiecq said. “The fact that they are experiencing harassment, wage theft and the like by these subcontractors — it’s unacceptable, and our whole community should be outraged. And we should be demanding that these workers be treated better than they are.”
Multiple GoFundMe pages have been created for Granados and other workers at Mason. A petition has also been started that calls for better working conditions and fairer wages for the university’s custodial staff.