On March 22, 14 cleaning workers spoke out for the first time about the unjust working conditions they face in the Stafford County Schools at the school board meeting. The schools contract out their cleaning staff from a company called ABM Building Value.
Members of the Fredericksburg Chapter attended to stand in solidarity with them. After they spoke, members of the board also expressed support. Here are their messages.
Antonia Ortez, 5 years working cleaning Stafford Schools for ABM Building Value
“In the worst moment of the Covid19 pandemic, and during all this time, we have been required to clean and disinfect places where infected people have left. We said that we were afraid to enter those places and we needed protection. They told us to just put on our masks and gloves and go inside to disinfect. I have bought the masks all the time because they have never given us masks.
“For a long time, I was earning $8.50 an hour, and from the previous year they increased it to $11.50. I have been through a lot of discrimination, mistreatment, and marginalization. On some occasions I have worked extra and have not been paid.
“I am concerned about the health of students, teachers, school employees, and ourselves.”
Blanca Smith, 6 years working cleaning Stafford Schools for ABM Building Value
“The bosses told me, in the most difficult time of COVID19, that if I got infected they would not pay me.
“It is also unfair that in several schools a single person has the responsibility of cleaning the entire school.
“I have been working for ABM for more than 6 years and I earn $13.00 per hour, but the work overload I have is overwhelming.”
Melady Rosa de Aguilar, more than 3 years working in the cleaning of the Stafford Schools for ABM Building Value
“At Brooke Point High School I worked for four months last year. I damaged my spine moving heavy furniture, and pulling out huge, heavy garbage bags. I had to take four weeks off work to recover, although I still have discomfort. That time I didn’t go to work they didn’t pay me, and they didn’t cover my medical care either. I make $10.75 an hour.”
Mabel Rivas, more than 10 years working cleaning Stafford Schools for ABM Building Value
“I have been working cleaning Stafford schools for more than 10 years. Most of this time I have had a salary of $8.25 per hour, and until August last year the contracting company that provides this service to schools, ABM Building Value, increased my salary to $10.75., and in November they increased to $12.00. I am a single mother, I have no job benefits, and to stay in my job I have had to endure abuse, discrimination, verbally mistreated from some of my supervisors and managers, and have had to work overtime without receiving pay for these extra hours.
“I have worked in schools where the company barely hires three people to clean the entire school, and in most schools where I have dedicated my work there are shortages of workers so the company overloads us with large areas to clean, we also have to work overtime and they do not provide us with the necessary equipment such as proper vacuum cleaners, for example. During the winter, when it is not possible to leave the houses due to the snow, we do not receive pay.
“For a long, long time I was assigned to clean a large and difficult work area at Brooke Point High School alone where it is necessary to have at least three people cleaning the place. I never had complaints about the work I did alone.
“I am suffering from health problems for a few years due to the high workload, my legs and knees are damaged by blows and pulls that I have had to suffer while I work moving furniture and heavy equipment and have suffered damage to my back and column. In the last School where I have been assigned there is a shortage of cleaning workers and again have damaged my legs and spine because I worked for almost three hours with a vacuum carried on my back”.
“When I wasn’t working cleaning schools, I had no idea of the conditions in which my children received classes because of the clean conditions of the schools. Now I have realized that it is hard work and that there are areas such as bathrooms and others that cannot be properly cleaned due to lack of cleaning staff and work overload. Despite this and the low wages they pay us, we make an effort to clean, we do it for the children and students, for the teachers, for the school staff and because we also have children in the schools.
“We care about the health of children, students, their parents, teachers, and employees, and our own. If someone gets sick in the schools it affects all of us, all residents of the county.
“We needed to be heard, and that is why we denounced the unfair labor conditions in which we work, the low wages and the unfair overload of work.”
Ricardo Ventura, almost 8 years
“We strive to do a good job cleaning schools for children, teachers and employees, but we are treated unfairly. We get abused from ABM, overworked, we’re not protected, we don’t have benefits. During the pandemic we have worked without protection. If we get sick we don’t have coverage and the wages are very low. Very often I work up to 16 hours a day.
“When one of our colleagues misses work, I am sent to cover those areas in other places and schools. I have worked for ABM for almost eight years and my salary is $11.50 per hour”
Edwin Turcios, 16 years
“I get up very early to work and I finish quite late at night, sometimes until midnight. In my job, although it is not my responsibility, I cover different schools. When someone misses work I cover their cleaning areas. That happens to all of us who work with ABM, but they overload me even more. Why have I been working for ABM in these conditions for 16 years? I have family, children to take food to.
“This injustice has to end.”
Elsa Bernal, 5 years
“We have come to this Stafford School Board meeting to ask you to support us. I am concerned about cleanliness in schools, more cleaning staff are needed to get the job done right. We care about this situation because we also have children and grandchildren in schools, although ABM doesn’t care about this, we do.
“We also have children that we have to feed and so we work hard, although we receive very low wages, we do not have health coverage, we do not get paid when schools do not have classes due to inclement weather days if we do not go to work, if we get sick they don’t pay us for the days we don’t work, they don’t pay us for holidays and until very recently they started paying vacations.
“That is why we are here, so that you know what is happening in the schools and support us.”
“We are here at the Stafford School Board meeting looking for your support. All of us are concerned about the quality of hygiene and safety of our children. You are parents and you must know everything that they, your children, go through. All this time both the children and us, the teachers and employees have been exposed due to the pandemic.
“The work has increased much more and we don’t have time to do everything. We have to disinfect doors, bathrooms, only one person works at the school. In the morning they call me that there has been an accident in a room that we have to go clean and at the same time we have to clean the hall, the bathrooms and they are all emergencies. What happens if there is water in the corridor, if there is pee spilled in bathroom? It is a danger and not only for children, but also for adults and for us.
“At lunchtime I have to be at everything, throwing out the garbage, cleaning the cafeteria, cleaning classrooms.
“We need to lower our workload, raise wages, benefits, paid holidays, sick days. Spring Break week just passed and we’re not getting paid. In the week of the snowfall in January, they only paid us for three days and we know that the County paid for the entire month.”