SEIU 32BJ cleaning service workers at 8701 Georgia Ave staged a protest in Downtown Silver Spring MD this past Tuesday, April 29, 2019, over low wages and union busting tactics by their new employer.
The owners of 8701 Georgia Ave, The Seligman Group, recently replaced its union-friendly cleaning services company with the non-profit Adams Morgan Youth Leadership Academy (AMYLA). Workers have complained that, since the change in management, they have seen their pay cut, had paychecks bounce, and been subjected to interrogation about their union activities.
Representing the building’s cleaning workers is SEIU Local 32BJ, who wrote letters and lodged complaints with Seligman Group and AMYLA. After getting no response, the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) about AMYLA’s lack of good faith to negotiate. The workers then publicly denounced AMYLA in front of 8701 Georgia Ave on April 19 after AMYLA continued to ignore their complaints. Only after this action did AMYLA Executive Director Nigel Okunibi tell Washington Hispanic that there would be an internal review of the organization “to make sure that the indicated procedures are being followed.”
But SEIU 32BJ workers have yet to see any improvements.
Last Tuesday’s demonstration against AMYLA lasted for over an hour, with a dozen workers picketing, chanting and distributing leaflets to pedestrians. District 20 Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins and District 39 Delegate Gabriel Acevero were in attendance to encourage workers to continue their fight against AMYLA’s anti-union practices.
“Not in our community,” declared Del. Wilkins, admonishing AMYLA’s union busting. “How does AMYLA purport to help people get good jobs, while slashing pay for their own low-wage workers?” questioned Del. Acevero.
AMYLA ostensibly provides youths with mentorship and job opportunities. But besides a few stock images, the organization’s website contains little detail on any real initiatives. They tout a list of “partners” but none relate to cleaning services.
At Tuesday’s protest, SEIU 32BJ Vice President Jamie Contreras pointed out AMYLA provides a modicum of content to the exclusive radio station of Line Hotel, a 5-star luxury hotel housed in a former church in the once gentrified and now solidly exclusive Adams Morgan.
Line Hotel, while admired by wealthy elites, has its own history of scandal. First a power struggle between owners and then credible allegations that the hotel was setting itself up to receive the full $46 million of a tax abatement agreement established by the D.C. Council while also avoiding meeting the conditions of that same agreement.
Partnering with a ritzy hotel attempting to scam taxpayers is already a suspicious move for a youth non-profit. Contreras questioned the non-profit’s true motives, saying, “What is a youth non-profit doing in the cleaning business?”
The workers are not yet on strike – their picket line is part of an escalating process of pressuring AMYLA and 8701 Georgia Ave. However the workers on last Tuesday’s picket were animated and steadfast in their opposition to AMYLA’s union busting. Contreras said the picket was, “…the first of many. We’ll be back.”