by Charles Blain
As Professional Janitorial Service’s trial against the Service Employee International Union – one of the nation’s largest labor unions – progresses, former employees have been taking the stand to refute the union’s claims about work conditions.
In one of SEIU’s Unfair Labor Practice lawsuits against the Houston-based janitorial company, they claimed that PJS was making minors clean office buildings past midnight and on school nights.
To clear up the confusion, PJS’ counsel brought in the now roughly 27-year-old, Gustavo Castro, to address the union’s claims. Castro’s testimony was one of the first opportunities to see just how far the SEIU went to disparage the company.
Castro testified that he started working for PJS as an after school job helping his father in 2005 when he was 15. Although he only stayed on board with the company for a few months, he recalled his time there saying he had no negative experiences.
As far as being forced to work past midnight and off of the clock, Castro stated that he worked no later than about 9:30 each night and the company never made him work for free.
Castro’s testimony is backed up by the Department of Labor, which investigated the incident. But that didn’t stop the SEIU from using the case they filed against PJS in fliers, emails, and op-eds to continue to smear the company’s reputation.
Many of the SEIU’s claims reiterate the narrative that employees were forced by PJS to work overtime without pay. They also claim that the company took “deposits” of employees’ paychecks only paying them one check for their first four weeks of work, when in reality it was no more than a two-week processing delay. So in other words, if they quit they would receive their last check two weeks following their last day.
While most allegations were disproven nearly ten years ago through investigations with the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, the trial is further illuminating just how deceitful some of these smear attempts were.
Since the start of the trial, despite SEIU claims, evidence has shown where former employees have signed off on forms stating they did receive their last paychecks, employee-managed time sheets showing exact hours worked, and pay stubs showing pay received.
Following Castro was another former employee of PJS, Edith Ramirez.
Ramirez worked for the company for nearly ten years and was a supervisor during the time that the SEIU came to Houston to organize janitors. She was the supervisor of a janitor named Jesus Del Toro who was not only supportive of the union, but also assisted in recruiting other janitors for rallies and petitions.
According to complaints filed by Ramirez, Del Toro – almost forty years her senior – made sexual advances towards her one evening while alone in an office suite.
When asked to describe the incident, Ramirez had a difficult time maintaining composure on stand saying, “I was horrified and felt cornered.”
In a statement, Del Toro denied the allegations, and claimed that they were based solely on his involvement in the union. He also claimed the allegations were made the same day that he delivered a union petition to PJS for healthcare for the part-time janitors.
Although, it seems that if PJS had a significant problem with Del Toro coordinating with the union they would have fired him rather than attempting to accommodate him elsewhere.
The day after the complaint, Del Toro was moved to another building supervised by PJS’ next witness, Evelyn Huezo.
Huezo testified that she and her tenants were unhappy with Del Toro’s work. One of the tenants even emailing PJS saying, “This can’t continue to happen…please replace all of the people working in this suite.” Needless to say, Del Toro was eventually fired but cited union involvement as the reason for dismissal rather than his inappropriate behavior and subpar workmanship.
Throughout the trial we have seen most of the employees who signed on with SEIU lawsuits claiming unfair treatment at work due to their support of the union, but records indicate that it was their shortcomings that were the cause of their loss of employment. Regardless of that, the union used them as the poster children for their smear campaign against a business that refused to comply with their demands.