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Center Street property manager dumps union janitors

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday December 27, 2001

Three weeks ago, when a janitorial company’s supervisor called Adalberto Mendoza, it wasn’t to extend the best wishes of the season to the janitor’s wife and four children. 

Instead, it was to let him know that he and the two other janitors employed at a Center Street building were being laid off as of Jan. 1. 

“It was very bad news for me,” said Mendoza, whose children range in age from 15 years old to seven months. “It was this job that gave us health insurance. Now there will be nothing in case the children get sick.” 

Every day for the last three-and-a-half years, Mendoza has finished work at his day job roasting coffee in Emeryville and headed to 1947 Center St. where he is paid $10 an hour to clean the six-story building from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.  

But three weeks ago, Universal Building Sevices, a unionized company that had the janitorial contract for the building for the last 13 years, informed its janitorial staff that the building’s property management company, San Francisco-based Gershon Baker and Associates, decided not to renew their contract in favor of California Janitorial, a non-union company. 

Mendoza works with janitors Maria and Leon Munoz, who will also be laid off after working at the building for 13 years.  

All three belong to Service Employees International Union, Local 1877. 

As building employees – most who work for the city, state or UC Berkeley – were leaving the site on Wednesday, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, SEIU Organizer Alvaro Gomez, Mendoza and Maria Munoz distributed fliers at the entrance to the six-story building. 

“We made our best effort to clean this building everyday,” said Munoz, who spoke through an interpreter. “It’s not fair for the property manager to make this decision overnight.” 

Many of the workers knew Mendoza and Munoz and promised to call the property management company to protest the contract cancellation. 

Karen Redman, who works in the building for the California Department of Health Services, said she knew of at least three other people in her office who had called to support the workers. 

“These guys do a great job on that building,” she said. “This is clearly about greed and not about quality of work.” 

Lori Samuel, who manages the building for Gershon Baker, did not return Daily Planet phone calls on Wednesday. According to a $2.5 million lease the city recently signed for office space in the building, the property owner is listed as 1947 Center Street Associates. However there is no telephone listing under that name in the greater Bay Area. 

The lease, renewed for five years last January, is for 18,000-square-feet of office space currently occupied by Public Works and Department of Parks and Waterfront offices.  

Worthington said the lease should be carefully reviewed. “The city should look into the possibility of breaking that lease,” he said, “especially with office rents coming down throughout the city.” 

Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz said the lease gave the city no control over the janitorial service. “In some of the buildings the city leases, we provide our own maintenance service but in this case the property manager has control over that,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because the city certainly supports the right of people to organize.” 

Gomez said union representatives had already contacted UBS to ask that the three janitors be hired at another location.  

“We are also hoping that if enough of the people who work in the building call the property manager will realize that this is unfair and will change their minds,” he said.