Computer company Dell is dumping a team of cleaning staff just two months after they signed a new contract giving them better pay and new protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.
On 1 May, services contractor Able drew up a new agreement which ensured its 8,000 Bay Area cleaners would be paid a minimum of $15 per hour – an increase of $0.76 – and get better family healthcare benefits. Language was also added to the contract to give protections from sexual violence – an all-too-common problem for female staff.
“The way the industry is set up, women are pretty vulnerable,” says Denise Solis, director at the Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), which represents Able workers. This is because mostly female staff typically work alone at night with predominantly male supervisors.
“The power dynamic creates a perfect storm for sexual harassment. Janitors mainly work in the evening when the buildings are empty. There are many immigrant workers and many don’t speak English,” she said.
The new contract introduced training and information about best practice for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as details of a state-wide hotline for victims. It was last modified in 2012.
However, six weeks after the contract was signed, Dell’s subcontracted facilities manager told Able it would be shifting to a cheaper non-union contractor, effective 15 July. The change affects twelve janitors at Dell’s Santa Clara campus. The SEIU says that it would cost Dell an additional $375,000 to retain these janitors – around 16% of the $2.4m CEO Michael Dell took home from the company last year.
On Thursday, the SEIU is holding a rally outside the Dell campus to protest the move. Janitors from across Silicon Valley will be joined by Santa Clara city council member Dominic Caserta to tell the tech giant “Ya Basta!” (“Enough!” in Spanish).
“It would seem that Dell is choosing profit over people’s lives,” says the SEIU’s Stephen Boardman, who is at the rally, adding that he’s hoping the protest will encourage Dell to overturn the decision.
“Forty-eight percent of janitors in Silicon Valley are living in poverty and working at great personal risk. Dell should honor the contracts that janitors have fought for,” Boardman said.
“There’s greed in Silicon Valley that’s going unchecked and the result is families living in poverty,” he added.
Dell was quick to deflect the blame. “The SEIU-USWW protest does not involve Dell or its employees,” a spokesman said. “It is an issue between the union and a subcontractor of the facilities management company, CBRE. We have no additional comment.”
Dell isn’t the only company to come under fire for its treatment of service workers. In January, workers at Intel campaigned to unionize over poor working conditions.
This article was written by Olivia Solon in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th June 2016 21.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010