ASU custodial staff goes on 1-day strike over benefits, working conditions

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., shakes hands with a worker on the ASU downtown campus on Thursday (Nicole Neri/DD)

Arizona State University custodial staff went on a one-day strike Thursday against their contracted employer Olympus Janitorial Services for Higher Education to protest working conditions and benefits.

The strike took place outside the University Center building on Central Avenue and Taylor Mall at 1:30 p.m. and lasted until 2:15 p.m. Organizers said they planned to strike on every campus before the end of the day.

The strike was organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99, featuring chants such as “Si Se Puede!” and “No Justice, No Peace!” Local union representative for UFCW Monica Sierra said Thursday’s protest was against some of the working conditions that ASU custodial staff had to deal with, as well as a lack of benefits.

“Olympus does not allow its workers to put in more than 40 hours a week so as to avoid giving them benefits,” Sierra said.

ASU custodial workers stand with congressman Ruben Gallego during a strike for better working conditions on Thursday (Nicole Neri/DD)
ASU custodial workers stand with U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., during a strike for better working conditions on Thursday (Nicole Neri/DD)

UFCW Local 99 organizing director Martin Hernandez said employees don’t have proper transportation to take them from the parking lots to buildings they work in unsafe heat.

“It’s an unsafe situation for them because it’s still pretty hot for them and they have to walk these distances.” Hernandez said.

 

Relations between Olympus and its workers began to deteriorate on Aug. 11 when workers protested at the company’s building in Tempe demanding their right to form a union, Hernandez said. He said Olympus called the police on the protesters that day, and several of the protesters who reported to work later in the day were fired. Those workers were later reinstated, he said. Thursday’s strikes were focused on protesting working conditions.

U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego stepped out of his office in the University Center building to vocally support the workers who he said live in his congressional district.

“I do believe in your cause and your movement to join your union,” the first-term Democratic representative said. “I support you in your right to do that 100 percent, and I hope that you succeed.”

Gallego said he hopes the process of unionization that lies ahead will be a clean one for the workers.

Anthony Hipple, CEO of Olympus, said a member of management personnel had been behind the termination of several employees that went on strike in August. Hipple said he personally reinstated them.

“If they want to unionize, they are fully within their rights to do that, and we will not try to impede this process in any way,” Hipple said.

Hipple said he could not answer questions about any particular grievances the workers had with their working conditions because of his role as CEO. He said he is not familiar with on site activities.

Contact the reporter at Daniel.Perle@asu.edu.