South Miami

Former Sunset Place cleaning workers meet with new owners

Months after being laid off following the sale of the Shops at Sunset Place, the former cleaning staff is finally hearing from the mall’s new owners.

Representatives from the workers’ union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, Grass River Property, and Federal Realty Investment Trust recently met to come up with a “just solution” for the workers, according to Ana Tinsly, communications specialist for Union SEIU Local 32BJ.

“Our purpose—and our bottom line—is that the workers must be immediately hired back at Sunset Place and that CBM must collectively bargain with the workers,” Tinsly said. “This is the second time, that we know of, that CBM has refused to hire unionized janitors…The Sunset Place cleaners had won living wages, excellent health care and good benefits as unionized members; the only just solution is that they be hired back at the mall and that their union be recognized again.”

Grass River Property, a Coconut Grove-based developer, and Federal Realty Investment Trust, purchased the 5701 Sunset Dr. property for $110 million from Simon Property Group in October. Along with that purchase, the mall switched cleaning companies, going from MGM Service Company to Coastal Building Maintenance (CBM).

The move meant cutting ties with nine cleaning workers, some of whom helped clean the mall for more than a decade.

The union met with Federal Reality Wednesday and has a vigil planned for Dec. 21. At the vigil, faith leaders, students and community members will join the workers to demand the jobs back.

“We met with union representatives this week to better understand their position and begin an open dialogue,” said Dawn Becker, executive vice president with Federal Realty Investment Trust. “At the same time, we have been busy expanding our reach into the South Miami community through holiday events and a special program for underserved children that will take place during Christmas week.”

South Miami commissioner Gabriel Edmond joined the workers and community members in a Nov. 5 protest. Since then, Edmond has championed communication between the new owners and former workers.

“I think it’s important that both the owners and the workers sit down and work together to resolve this matter,” Edmond said. “I think it’s in both of their interests to get an honorable deal that they both can live with so that’s what I’m promoting.”

On Oct. 2, the cleaners and SEIU Local 32BJ filed an unfair labor practice charge against CBM with the National Labor Relations Board.

Helene O’Brien, Florida director of Union SEIU Local 32BJ, said Grass River’s initial proposal is “unacceptable.”

“We are currently in negotiations so that we can work out a just deal for the fired cleaners,” O’Brien said. “Grass River Property’s initial proposal, which is for Coastal Building Maintenance (CBM) to offer positions to some of the workers in other locations, without labor protections or health insurance, is unacceptable.”

CBM President Matt Sullivan contends that six of the nine workers have been offered jobs with CBM.

“CBM is aware that the SEIU has reached out to Federal and Grass River, and we were made aware of the meeting between Federal and the SEIU but we were not involved in it,” Sullivan said in an email. “I’d like to remind you that the individuals in question were not laid off by CBM. They were apparently laid off by the former contractor when their contract expired at The Shops at Sunset Place.

“Notwithstanding, we have welcomed and received applications from some of these individuals who expressed an interest in working with CBM, and as work became available and the need has arisen to hire additional employees we extended an offer. To date we have offered six of these employees jobs with three of them accepting employment with my firm.”