Co-working startup WeWork has laid off all but 15 of the 150 people it subcontracted to clean its 17 New York City offices, just a few months after those workers started organizing to join a union. Gothamist reports the workers’ contract with WeWork expired on Sunday, and when they came to work Monday, they discovered they’d been replaced.
WeWork said Monday that it directly hired 70 new cleaners after the subcontractor, Commercial Business Maintenance, terminated its contract (apparently in response to the union organizing effort). But only 15 of the 150 CBM cleaners were hired for those in-house positions—which have better pay and benefits, but are non-union. It’s still looking to fill 25 more jobs. (DNAInfo New York reports the new positions pay $15-18 an hour, which is much more than the $10 an hour the workers were making as subcontractors, but less than the $18-$24 they stood to make as unionized employees.)
Some of the cleaners told Gothamist that when they re-applied for their jobs, they were asked their opinions on unions and “strongly encouraged” to rescind their applications to the Service Employees International Union.
WeWork says it was CBM that dropped the contract, and denies it had any anti-union bias in hiring for the in-house positions:
“Any suggestion that engaging in union activity hurt applicants is patently false. WeWork has interviewed or will interview every CBM employee who applies for one of our new jobs. We hired the best candidates, period.”
Employees in the new jobs also have to speak English, even though it’s often irrelevant to the cleaning tasks they’re being hired to perform. That means many of the CBM employees, who mostly speak Spanish, aren’t eligible to get their jobs back.
One of people laid off from WeWork, 26-year-old Carlos Angulo, told DNAInfo that he and the other cleaners hardly needed English to be effective in their jobs.
“If I talk to the toilet in English it’s not going to answer,” he said. “The printer doesn’t ask me to talk to him in English, the coffee machine [doesn’t either].”
WeWork’s careers page, where the former cleaners’ old jobs are listed, says the company is looking for people who are “authentic,” “tenacious,” and “grateful.”
Guess the employees who tried to unionize to make a living wage just weren’t authentic, tenacious, or grateful enough.