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United Steelworkers Will Not Represent Cleaners Employed By Company Accused Of Unfair Labor Practice

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The Ellis School in Shadyside.

The United Steelworkers will no longer represent workers of a local cleaning company that are assigned to the Ellis School.

In a letter to the company, USW Vice President Fred Redmond told the Homestead-based General Cleaning that the union “disclaims interest" in representing those workers because of a recent unfair labor practice charge filed against the company.

Last week, seven African-American women who worked for Alder Services cleaning the all-girls Shadyside Preparatory School were fired when the school switched cleaning contractors. Service Employees International Union represented those workers and filed an unfair labor complaint this week alleging that the former employees were not offered jobs with the new contractor, General Cleaning, because of their union membership.

Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania district leader for 32BJ SEIU, said that is illegal.

“Normally a new contractor will come in and simply hire all of the existing workers because it makes life easier for them and for everybody else,” Williamson said. “And at minimum under the law they have to give them the same right to apply for those jobs as anyone else.”

SEIU is challenging General Cleaning saying the move was in an effort to lower wages and avoid a bargaining obligation.

Williamson said the former employees had made a little more than $12/hour. The new workers make less than $9/hour.

Glinda Harvey is one of the former workers who said the switch came as a surprise. She was working two jobs and said she quickly found a replacement position that pays less and offers fewer hours.

“Losing this job just made that a little harder,” she said. "I’m basically starting over. The reason I went and got a job so fast is because I had bills due. No bill collector wants to hear about your financial issues. They don’t care about that. They want their money.”

General Cleaning did not return requests for comment. The Ellis School declined to comment on legal proceedings or any contractual relationship.

“Speaking generally, Ellis’ commitment to providing a well-functioning, efficiently-operating, and safe educational environment for our students, families, and employees requires us to regularly evaluate those relationships. As a new school year approaches, we are confident that the businesses we work with will help Ellis to build on its proud 100-year history of educating girls,” Head of School Macon Finley said in an email.

The complaint against General Cleaning also alleges that the company improperly entered into a collective bargaining agreement with United Steelworkers, “without any demonstration of majority support by the cleaners of the union.”

United Steelworkers refutes that claim, saying that the new workers assigned to the Ellis School were existing USW members in good standing covered by the union. In Redmond’s letter to General Cleaning he demanded that the new workers assigned to the Ellis School be reassigned to another worksite that the USW represents.

SEIU has also started an online petition to reinstate the previous contractor, Alder Services. 

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.