An overnight cleaner who has worked scrubbing, mopping and disinfecting the halls and classrooms of Brooklyn Law School for 36 years is fighting the school, after being given only three weeks notice that he was losing his union contract and health benefits, and having his hourly wage almost cut in half.
Luis Pacheco, 54, has worked as an overnight cleaner at Brooklyn Law School since 1986, taking over from his father. His father worked there from 1969, only stepping down due to struggles with diabetes that saw him lose his kidneys.
On June 6, Pacheco was told the school had changed the cleaning contractor from Triangle Services to Advantage Cleaning, and that to keep their jobs, he and six colleagues would have to sign new, non-union contracts starting today, July 1.
The new contract will see him lose his health benefits, vacation and sick days, and have his hourly wage cut from $30 to $17 per hour, he told BK Reader.
Since then, Pacheco—who also suffers from diabetes—has been scrambling to fight the sudden changes.
“I feel so bad. Me and my wife work in the same building. We will both lose our benefits, and how will we pay the mortgage?
“I can’t sleep, only two or three hours, and then I show up to try to protest the decision. I’ve never felt this bad in my life,” he said.
Throughout his decades of work at the Brooklyn Law School, Pacheco—who has been the overnight cleaning foreman for 20 years—has seen several different cleaning companies take over the overnight contract, but they have all honored the workers’ 32BJ SEIU union contracts.
At a rally outside Brooklyn Law School Thursday, 32BJ SEIU Executive Vice President and Director of the Commercial Division Denis Johnston said some of the workers would see their annuals salaries drop from around $60,000 to $35,000 per year, as well as losing their employer-paid Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield healthcare coverage.
“When [Advantage] comes in tomorrow they’re going to have to bargain with 32BJ and we’re going to continue this fight with them until they agree that they’ll maintain what you guys have had all these years of working here,” he said.
The workers were told they would have 30 days to fill their prescriptions before they were uninsured.
For Pacheco, this means scrambling to get supplies to manage him and his wife’s diabetes. The medication price will spike from $40 co-pay per month to $300 per month, he said.
Pacheco also has ligament damage due to the heavy duty scrubbing and washing he does every week on the job. Three years ago, the union healthcare paid for the $22,000 surgery he needed in his right arm. Now the problem is in his left arm, and he doesn’t know how he would pay for surgery, he said.
“But I don’t stop working because I love my job,” he said. “We are hardworking people.”
The company has also asked him and other employees to download a company app. In it, they have to upload a photo of what they’re doing every 20 minutes, Pacheco said.
A complaint has been filed against Advantage Cleaning with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint alleges violations of the cleaners’ right to organize, citing statements made to workers, Johnston said.
“Brooklyn Law School should not be removing good union jobs and lowering labor standards. These workers have put in decades of their lives serving the Brooklyn Law School community, now is not the time to strip them of their healthcare, retirement benefits and reduce their wages.”
In a statement given to BK Reader Thursday, Brooklyn Law School said it “in no way” harbored anti–union animus. It said it respects the right of employees to choose whether to be represented by the union.
“Brooklyn Law School recognizes that this is a matter between Advantage Cleaning LLC and 32BJ SEIU based on the charge filed yesterday with the National Labor Relations Board.”
However, the school has faced mounting pressure to help Pacheco and the other cleaners after replacing the “responsible” cleaning contractor Triangle with a non-union one.
After finding out about the workers’ situation this Monday, a group of Brooklyn Law School students have been “working tirelessly” to bring it to light, law student Will Cooper said.
The students started a Change.org petition demanding the school reverse the “anti-worker” decision. They also started an email campaign to every faculty member, Brooklyn Law School Dean Michael T. Cahill, and the school Board of Trustees.
Cooper said Board Chairman Francis Aquila met with them Friday morning and it “seems the school is considering its options.”
“They know we’re not backing down and we hope they’re going to make the right decision,” he said.
Brooklyn Law School told BK Reader Friday morning it had an update on the labor dispute. It had not sent the update by time of publishing.
BK Reader reached out to Advantage Cleaning for comment multiple times via phone and email. Reached on an office number, the man who answered said the company did not have a contract with Brooklyn Law School and hung up. Reached on a cellphone for owner Omar Miller, the same man said Miller was not in and hung up.
Update 1pm Friday: Brooklyn Law School has issued a statement to BK Reader that it is now exploring alternative arrangements for its cleaning services and is in talks with other vendors who have unionized workforces.
“In talks with these other vendors, Brooklyn Law School has been assured that all of the employees of our former vendor will be offered positions that will include the same pay and benefits as they previously received.
Update 3pm Friday: Brooklyn Law School has confirmed that Triangle Services is continuing until an alternate vendor is found.