U. contractor under fire for anti-union violence

By
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Martins Maintenance, a janitorial contractor employed by the University, is being criticized by the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union for allegedly assaulting and firing an employee who talked to union organizers.

Luis DaSilva, a former employee of Martins Maintenance, told a crowd of supporters and press Monday in front of City Hall that he was assaulted and threatened by his supervisor Friday night. DaSilva, 25, said he was at work in the Turks Head building downtown when his supervisor summoned him to a room in the basement, shouted at him, grabbed him by the shirt, tore it off and repeatedly threw him against a wall.

According to DaSilva, the supervisor had found out that he was talking to union representatives about the illegal practices of Martins Maintenance, which DaSilva alleged pays employees less than promised and uses non-company checks in order to avoid paying taxes. It is illegal to fire an employee for talking to union organizers.

DaSilva said the supervisor then threatened to send someone to cut off his legs if he continued communicating with the union.

DaSilva, who is from Brazil and is not fluent in English, was aided by a translator at the event.

According to DaSilva, the supervisor told him to put on another shirt and took him upstairs, where he gathered the rest of the janitors, including two of DaSilva’s sisters, and further berated him, telling him he wouldn’t last in this country. The supervisor fired DaSilva and told him to leave the building, telling the other janitors that anyone who agreed with DaSilva could leave as well.

One of DaSilva’s sisters left with him and consequently lost her job, according to Sarah Adler-Milstein ‘07.5, who is taking the semester off to intern at SEIU Local 615. DaSilva’s other sister was fired Monday after the press conference, according to the union.

No one from Martins Maintenance was available for comment.

The SEIU is also pursuing legal action in DaSilva’s cause, Adler-Milstein said. Union representatives and DaSilva gave a statement to the National Labor Relations Board in Boston Monday morning and are pressing charges against Martins Maintenance.

In a separate lawsuit decided last week, a superior court judge ordered Martins Maintenance to reinstate an unlawfully displaced employee at another building downtown, Adler-Milstein said.

The union also wants Martins Maintenance to leave the Turks Head building and fire the supervisor who allegedly assaulted DaSilva, according to Eric Larson, GS, who waspresent at Monday’s press conference. The Turks Head building was the site of a five-day protest fast, which ended Nov. 1, aimed at convincing the building’s owners to hire a union-friendly cleaning contractor.

Martins Maintenance was one of several outside contractors hired by the University three years ago when Brown Dining Services extended the hours of some of its retail locations, such as the Gate, said Mark Nickel, director of the University News Service. The outside contractors are responsible for cleaning that occurs around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., Nickel said. The University is currently planning to put this job under the auspices of Brown’s own cleaning staff, he said.

Pablo Gaston ’05, who now works for SEIU Local 615, said the unionization of the Turks Head building janitors is of citywide importance because janitorial contractors who work with SEIU Local 615 have agreed to renegotiate all their employees’ wages if the SEIU can unionize 65 percent of downtown commercial cleaning space.

“These kind of things happen every day” to workers trying to improve solidarity, Gaston said.

After Monday’s press conference, a delegation including DaSilva, city councilmen Miguel Luna and Louis Aponte, the president of the union and the pastor of a Providence church attempted to talk to Lloyd and Evan Granoff, the brothers who own the historic building, but were not able to do so.

Llyod Granoff is chairman of the Providence Public Buildings Authority, and Evan Granoff is chairman of the Downtown Providence District Manage-ment Authority, according to the Providence Journal.

Last night, the union and the Justice for Janitors movement held the second of three vigils at the Turks Head building to remind Martins Maintenance and the supervisor, who still works in the building, that they are being watched and to provide support for the janitors still working there, according to Larson.

On Thursday there will be a rally and march beginning at Kennedy Plaza to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rosa Park’s protest and remind the community “that working without fear, without terror, is a civil right,” Larson said.

He added that in a period hailed as a renaissance for Providence, no one should live in fear of having his legs cut off. “That’s the old Providence,” he said.

Roxana Rivera, lead organizer for the Providence office of SEIU Local 615, said the union is trying to protect DaSilva by raising community support. “Our hope is that Martins Maintenance will not hurt him knowing that there’s a lot of community support behind him,” Rivera said. She said that the union hopes its actions will raise awareness of people’s “civil right” to work under decent and safe conditions.

Speaking to PB 160 Sec. 12: “Socioeconomic Development and the Culture of Solidarity in Latin America: Theory and Practice” after the press conference yesterday, Rivera said the union is trying “to educate the building owner community that they can’t just operate on cost” and show that plenty of companies survive in the market without allowing worker abuse. She pointed out that despite the fact that DaSilva, who also spoke to the class, “faces a real threat, he’s taken the chance and come forward.”

One student in PB 160, Alicia Pantoja ’06, who started volunteering for SEIU this summer, said too many Brown students live in Providence for four years but “stay on the Hill (and) don’t know what’s going on” downtown. She said more students should try to get involved with workers in Providence because “it’s really important for them to receive support from this community” and students have resources that can help.