South Miami

Fired workers, union file labor charge against Shops at Sunset Place cleaning company

Fired Shops of Sunset Place cleaner Maria Solis speaks to the media in September.
Fired Shops of Sunset Place cleaner Maria Solis speaks to the media in September. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com / file

Picketers on Nov. 5 again packed the Shops at Sunset Place in the name of the nine cleaning workers who lost their jobs after the property’s $110 million sale.

The workers, some who helped keep the mall clean for more than a decade, lost their jobs when new owners Grass River Property and Federal Reality Investment Trust hired a new cleaning contractor, Coastal Building Maintenance.

Now the cleaners and their union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

“It’s illegal to discriminate against workers for belonging to a union,” said Ana Tinsly, communications specialist for SEIU Local 32BJ. “If they don’t want to collectively bargain with the workers or for whatever reason, to save money, etc., that’s the charge. We are still in the process of the investigation and filing the affidavit. I’m assuming it can take anywhere from a couple months to a year for something like this to be resolved.”

The charge was filed against CBM on Oct. 2.

CBM President Matt Sullivan said six of the nine workers had submitted applications to be hired at other CBM locations and three have been hired.

“He hasn’t placed anybody,” Tinsly said. “That’s a lie. He hasn’t called any of them back. That’s one of the things we were saying was really weird.”

Sullivan said he would not disclose the workers’ names or the CBM clients where they are working, but said they are in South Miami.

“We did hire three of the former Sunset MGM employees, and I have the paychecks to prove it,” Sullivan said.

Maria Solis, 70, worked at Shops at Sunset Place for 17 years. Solis said she has applied twice to CBM.

“The first time we went, we told them we wanted to apply for our jobs at Sunset Place,” Solis said. “They told us they didn’t have a contract with the mall and that they didn’t know what we were talking about. But we had already seen their equipment with their logo delivered to the mall.”

“The second time we went, a supervisor told us that they had open positions in other places, which paid $9 an hour and that they would call us. They have never called us.”

MGM Service Company was the cleaning company when the Simon Property Group owned the property. That contract was terminated Sept. 30.

“I have thyroid cancer, which was managed well when I was working and had my health insurance,” Solis said. “Since I lost my job, I had to miss one of my treatments and couldn’t go to the doctor until I got my Medicaid. I’m also so stressed out that I haven’t been feeling well. Since I don’t have money, I’ve moved in with my sister, who was fired, too, so that we could help each other.”

South Miami Commissioner Gabriel Edmond, Democratic congressional candidate Annette Taddeo, Father Frank Corbishley of St. Bede Chapel at the University of Miami, Miami students, and others attended the protest at Sunset Drive and Southwest 57th Court.

“It’s important to me because I’ve had to live off of limited means,” Taddeo said. “I haven’t always been a successful businesswoman. I’ve had to go through a rough patch, counting pennies. I’m also an employer and I think it’s wrong to just fire everybody all at once. . . . Every time there was any kind of switch of management, they kept the workers. All the sudden you fire everybody? That doesn’t smell good.”

“It doesn’t pass my smell test,” Taddeo said. “It shows me that they were probably let go because they were unionized; therefore they earned a little bit more and had benefits.”

Last year, the median wage for janitors in Miami was $9.41 per hour, while Sunset Place cleaners made an average of $11 to $13 an hour, according to Tinsly. While at Sunset Place, the cleaners had 100 percent paid healthcare.

“Obviously eventually, some of these folks will try to get jobs elsewhere,” Tinsly said. “I doubt that they want to go back to work with a company that just fired them this way. I think that, yeah it would be great if they do find work. But the point is that it’s not just about being able to get any old job. It’s about being able to get a job where you have some semblance of a decent living. They were all able to raise families and help their families overseas and get good healthcare and stuff like that.”

Tinsly said she believes the union has a “pretty good case at this point.”

“This was one of the cases against CBM, is that if they are good enough to offer them jobs at other locations, why are they not offering them jobs at Sunset Place,” Tinsly said.

“That’s a suspicious thing. The reason behind it that we are asserting is because, if you get rid of all the workers, then you get rid of the union. If you put one worker in Brickell, another someplace else, and in other locations, then you don’t have a majority union. You just have individual workers.”

Tinsly said the charge is not technically a lawsuit.

“[NLRB] are the ones that can actually penalize companies,” Tinsly said. “They can award these workers, for example, back wages. They can do rulings where the company has to hire the workers back . . . that kind of stuff. They can also broker settlements. That’s how that works.”

SEIU 32BJ is the largest property service workers union in the country, with more than 145,000 members.

“We are cooperating with the NLRB, and it is still ongoing,” Sullivan said. “We strongly disagree with their claim, and CBM looks forward to a positive outcome.

“I do sympathize with their situation, and we encourage them to stay in touch with our HR department for potential job openings.”

Sullivan said that he and his lawyers are cooperating with the NLRB.

“I won’t disclose the three names because I’m not going to drag them into the media. I’ve even turned these names over to the NLRB,” Sullivan said. “It’s not like the court system, they want information almost daily. We are cooperating with them. My attorneys and I feel really good. We have done everything the right way, trying to provide jobs.”

CBM will continue to accept applications for those interested in working janitorial, according to Sullivan.

“It’s upsetting to me that these guys continue to protest,” Sullivan said. “Here I am, a local South Miami resident, providing jobs, going out of my way to help and to continue to get dragged. It’s frustrating and upsetting. We were hired to do the job. This is standard operating procedure for us. We can help place people. We are a labor provider. To say that we didn’t hire anybody is a complete fabrication.

“The place has never been this clean. They are very happy with the service and the people we have providing the work.”

Tinsly said the union and seven of the nine former cleaning staff members are officially signed on with the filed charge, but the group is demanding all nine jobs back.

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