Janitors Who Clean the National Renewable Energy Lab Fighting for Justice!
The 32 janitors who clean the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden have been fighting for over a year and a half for better wages, better working conditions and a union contract. The janitors work for Whayne and Sons Enterprises, Inc., a subcontractor hired by Alliance for Sustainable Energy, the company that operates and manages NREL for the U.S. Department of Energy. Despite a vicious anti-union campaign that ultimately included firing three of the janitors organizing for a union, the janitors voted overwhelmingly to unionize in January 2014. After numerous charges were filed, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged both Whayne and the Alliance with significant violations of labor law. Just before a trial scheduled in October 2014, a settlement was reached that included reinstatement of the three fired workers with full back pay. Still, the struggle continues.
Health Insurance Issues
One of the major issues raised by janitors is Whayne’s handling of their fringe benefits and health insurance. The Service Contract Act sets a minimum value which can either be paid as an hourly amount or in the form of a benefit valued at or greater than the minimum amount. Whayne not only enrolled employees forcibly in a sub-par health insurance plan, they duplicitously told workers that they were required to take the health insurance offered to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, according to their Federal agreement, Whayne should have spent around $184,000 on health insurance for employees yet only $24,000 went to actual health costs. The union has filed charges against Whayne with the Department of Labor for failing to comply with the Service Contract Act.
Bargaining with Whayne started on June 24, 2014. Tentative agreements on most non-economic and some economic issues have been reached. Issues of contention include wages and sick, holiday and vacation pay. Janitors have proposed seven days a year of paid sick leave. In response, the owner of Whayne told employees he wouldn’t pay for employees to take their kids fishing (!). With no apparent justification, Whayne is demanding concessions from employees. The company is insisting on cutting paid break times in half. This would result in a net loss of income of $780.65 per employee – about a 4% pay cut! As a result, janitors are asking for community support in their fight for a fair contract.