By Sorbis /

State Department Cuts Cleaning Crew Contract, 17 Workers Laid Off

Union publicizes worker hardships as procurement office imposes 30 percent cut.

On Friday, May 1, the day before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was sworn in, the State Department’s procurement office imposed a 30 percent cost reduction on an office cleaning contractor.

The result: R&R Building Services laid off 17 workers, some of whom have been cleaning diplomats’ workspaces for two decades.

Their cause was taken up by the Service Employees International Unit Local 32BJ, which publicized profiles of several workers by name.

“Putting a dozen office cleaners out of work won’t solve budgetary challenges, but it will hurt their children and our communities,” said Jaime Contreras, a 32BJ SEIU vice president. “It’s immoral to make working families suffer just to save a few pennies.”

 Examples cited by the union included:

  • Isabel Gueverra –19 years at State: a single mother living in a basement with her son, without any savings to help pay for rent, car, food and health insurance for her son. She worries about her diabetes, reporting that her blood sugar has been shooting up and that she can’t afford the $400 testing equipment. “I cry sometimes because I have a lot of medicine I won’t be able to pay for and I don’t know how I’m going to feed my son. We never complained and no one ever complained about our work.”
  • Bonita Williams – 10 years at State: a single mother of five and grandmother of eight facing an electricity shut-off warning if she doesn’t pay $400 by May 18th. I’m so worried that I can’t even get out of bed or get from point A to point B. I’m having paralyzing headaches and nausea.”
  • Lillian Gonzalez – 17 years at State: “I have three grandsons and a very sick sister who all live with me and who I need to support. I have a $15,000 loan that I’m falling behind on payments – I’m sick with worry.”

Asked to respond, a State Department official told Government Executive in an email that the department “periodically reviews its facilities operations and maintenance activities (including custodial) to General Services Administration-benchmarked levels of service.  Based on GSA comparisons, the department is realigning the level of services provided across our domestic real estate portfolio closer to the government-wide median.”

The official continued: “The most recent GSA benchmarking data (2016 Operations and Maintenance Cost Per Sq. Ft.) shows State has the second highest cost of 17 departments/agencies reporting. State’s goal is to benchmark against other similar-size agencies and adjust services and cost accordingly with minimum impact on critical functions (including employee health).”