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3 Months After Deal With Union, Fired WeWork Cleaners Still Jobless

By Gwynne Hogan | January 29, 2016 1:47pm | Updated on February 1, 2016 8:50am
 WeWork said it would rehire the workers it had locked out in October. Those cleaners are still jobless.
WeWork said it would rehire the workers it had locked out in October. Those cleaners are still jobless.
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WILLIAMSBURG — Months after communal workspace company WeWork promised it would rehire dozens of cleaners it had locked out in August, those janitors are still in limbo, holding out hope that the company will fulfill the promise it made to them.

On Monday, WeWork will open its 20th New York City co-working space in Williamsburg at 240 Bedford Ave., the company has another five locations in the pipeline, and it's value recently doubled to $10 billion.

But the rapid growth was supposed to be tied to a modest improvement in the quality of jobs for the more than 100 cleaners it once sub-contracted, according to an October agreement WeWork made with 32BJ SEIU, the union bargaining for them.

But three months after a compromise and six months since those workers lost their jobs, the company's promises still haven't materialized, fired workers said.

“I’m still waiting. You can’t take on another job and then they call you to work,” said Antonia Ramirez, 43, in Spanish, who said she'd been cobbling together a living with odd jobs but was still holding out for a call from WeWork.

She cleaned worked as a cleaner for the company for three years before she and her co-workers were suddenly locked out last August, Ramirez said.

"They told us to wait, that they were going to call us," said Yolanda Morales, 50, in Spanish, who'd been surviving on unemployment checks while she cared for an ill family member who died last week. She planned on starting to look for work in February, she said. "Well, what's happened is I'm still waiting."

The turmoil for former WeWork cleaners began last June when they announced they wanted to unionize in a fight for better wages, more reliable hours and benefits.

But soon after the company they worked for, Commercial Business Maintenance, suddenly canceled its contract with WeWork and the workspace company started hiring people to replace them. When cleaners showed up to their jobs a day after the contract expired in August, their IDs no longer let them in the building.

Only 15 original CBM workers were hired back among the 95 full-time hires that company was seeking, a WeWork spokeswoman said in August.

But in October, WeWork appeared to have finally caved to pressures from the union, and they hashed out a compromise that both WeWork and 32BJ SEIU heralded as a "landmark agreement."

"WeWork is committed to working with union contractors to rehire former CBM cleaners for these new positions whenever possible," the company wrote in a release.

At first, the union reps said three dozen cleaners would be rehired within several weeks of a deal

But that deadline came and went.

"Then they told us in January, now January's gone," Susana Martinez, 24, in Spanish, who also worked for WeWork for three years before losing her job. "They kept pushing it back."

"I can't wait any longer," Martinez, who's a part-time student at Queensborough College.

Jennifer Burner, a spokeswoman for WeWork, would not say if any more workers besides the original 15 had gotten their jobs back and declined to comment further, pointing out the October press release.

Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for 32BJ SEIU said that a three-month lag was normal and that 26 workers were expected to be subcontracted next week by the cleaning ABM to start working for WeWork again. ABM didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.

Several workers that spoke with DNAinfo on Friday had received calls from the union telling them to expect a phone call from ABM, but hadn't heard anything more.

And six months since she's had stable employment, Ramirez said she kept holding out hope to get a call from WeWork out of principle.

“If we fought for something, I think that we have a right to get our jobs back,” Ramirez said. "That’s why we started [this].”