Union janitors Tuesday picketed in protest of what they claim is a threat to their after-hours workplace and to unsuspecting investors - franchise janitorial services.
Toting white-and-blue signs that read “Help Stop Exploitation,” a dozen informational pickets from the Service Employees Union Local 202 gathered at a South Hill office to ask building owners to terminate contracts with janitorial franchises and employ union workers.
People who invest in a janitorial franchise pay a fee to clean certain buildings and get a hefty cut of the monthly billings.
Union officials said they plan to conduct informational picket lines at other buildings cleaned by National Maintenance Contractors Inc., the chief seller of janitorial franchises.
“People shouldn’t have to buy a job to clean this building,” Local 202 officer Celia Petty said as pickets paraded in front of the Qual-Med building at Sixth and Stevens. “We’d like to see all buildings cleaned by union janitors.”
Officials with National Maintenance said the union demonstrations are retaliation for the company taking away lucrative cleaning contracts, including the nine-story Qual-Med building. The company also cleans Rockwood Clinic and Group Health clinics.
Will McGurk, general manager for National Maintenance in Spokane, said the company’s 22 franchise investors earn more money and enjoy better working conditions than most union janitors.
“If theirs’ was such a good deal, why do McDonald’s employees make nearly as much as a union janitor?” McGurk said.
Local 202 represents more than 350 employees of American Building Maintenance, the largest union janitorial service in the Inland Northwest, Petty said. Janitors earn $5.50 to $7.71 per hour and receive health insurance, sick leave and vacation pay.
A National Maintenance franchise fee ranges from $1,850 to $16,900, depending on the size of accounts that the company gives the investor, according to a March 1996 franchise offer. The fee generally is five times the amount of monthly billings.
National Maintenance collects an administrative fee that is 20 percent of the monthly billing. In addition to cleaning the buildings, the franchisees are responsible for their own medical insurance, unemployment coverage, social security and other benefits.
“With the difference between what they (union janitors) are making and what I’m making, I can buy pretty good health insurance,” said Harry Wilkins, a long-time National Maintenance franchisee.
For Wilkins and others, the program has worked. But Janice Marich, spokeswoman for the Washington Attorney General, said the office continues to get complaints that people buying a National Maintenance franchise feel mislead.
The Bellevue-based company in 1992 signed a consent decree with the attorney general to change certain practices and free investors to make complaints without threat of retaliation.