South Miami

Board dismisses labor charge against Sunset Place cleaning company

Maria Solis, a CBM employee for more than 17 years, speaks to the media outside the Sunset Place at Southwest 72nd Street and 57th Avenue in September 2015.
Maria Solis, a CBM employee for more than 17 years, speaks to the media outside the Sunset Place at Southwest 72nd Street and 57th Avenue in September 2015.

A flock of disgruntled former cleaners of the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami has lost a labor battle with Coastal Building Maintenance.

The National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 29 dismissed Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ’s charge that CBM violated the National Labor Relations Act. The decision was based on the board’s conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to establish CBM violated the act by refusing to hire the cleaners.

The cleaners were terminated from their positions after the mall was sold for $110 million on Oct. 1. New owners Grass River Property and Federal Realty Investment Trust brought in CBM to replace MGM Service Co., which previously employed the cleaners.

“We were very pleased with the NLRB decision to drop the charge against CBM,” said Matt Sullivan, president of CBM. “We were confident that we did nothing wrong and we now look forward to focusing on the job at hand at Sunset Shops. “

32BJ SEIU has until March 14 to appeal the decision to general counsel of the NLRB. The charge was filed Oct. 2.

“The situation at Sunset Place is a perfect example of a flawed system that allows building owners to hide behind contractors as they squeeze their workers,” said Helene O’Brien, Florida Director of 32BJ SEIU. “In its decision, which we are appealing, the NLRB states that CBM can’t be held accountable because they were supposedly unaware the employees were unionized. The new owners, Federal Realty and Grass River, retained the mall’s general manager, who had full knowledge of the union.”

“We attempted several times to contact the contractor, who never returned our calls or email,” O’Brien added. “When the workers went to apply for their jobs in early September, a CBM manager lied and said they did not have a contract at Sunset Place. No one seems to be able to get their story straight.”

Members of South Miami’s local government, clergy, students, and other community groups joined the former employees in several protests and gatherings since Simon Property Group’s sale of the mall.

Nine cleaning workers lost their jobs after the sale, but Sullivan contends that his company made offers to seven of the employees. He said that three accepted positions and four turned down the company, and that two of them still work for the company.

“CBM can conveniently claim ignorance, while being used as a firewall by the mall owners so they can all save a few dollars,” O’Brien said. “One thing is certain, the cleaners were all fired without notice and replaced with workers who are barely earning minimum wage and have no health insurance. We will continue to demand that local leaders hold the mall owners and their low-bid contractor accountable for lowering standards for working people in the community.”

Grass River Property, Federal Realty Investment Trust, and representatives from 32BJ SEIU previously met to work on a solution to the issue.

The union plans to continue to fight the issue regardless of the appeal’s resolution. It recently even handed out hand sanitizers with stickers that read: “Clean up corporate greed from Sunset Place,” at the South Miami Art Festival.