Just a few days ago, sharing-economy darling WeWork was valued at $10 billion. Yesterday, dozens of unionized service workers gathered at Fulton Center to protest the low wages, lack of benefits, and threats against unionization they say affect the non-union cleaners employed at WeWork.
Only four WeWork cleaners—those who work the night shift—could attend yesterday's raucous march from Fulton Center to the Charging Bull statue on Wall Street. The daytime janitors still had to be at work on Wednesday at 3pm when the march began.
Bolivar Coronado, a Bed-Stuy resident, said that when he started at WeWork in February, he was placed on the 5-hour night shift instead of the 8-hour day shift, and quickly learned that he would receive no holidays, bonuses, or any meaningful benefits.
Coronado told us that the $10/hour he receives “is not enough to support even myself, plus I have child support to pay!”
"I know that WeWork can pay more, because every night I see the facilities they have,” he said. In order to pay the bills and support his four kids, Coronado said he is looking for a second job.
SEIU 32BJ, the largest service employees union in the country, organized the rally. The group has also been instrumental in organizing fast food workers in their fight to earn $15/hour.
Shirley Abedol, a vice president at the union, told us that "something like 98% of New York City cleaning staffs are unionized, and can receive $18 to $23 an hour," but "WeWork chose Commercial Building Maintenance, a non-union contractor with that would work for their agenda."
Abedol and the union say that WeWork has threatened to fire its custodians for attempting to unionize, and have filed a complaint with the NLRB. WeWork, which runs 15 office buildings in New York City and many more nationwide, has denied the allegations.
"We absolutely did not and would not threaten the employment of any one who works at one of our locations because of any union activity," a spokesperson for WeWork tells us in an email. "Moreover, since all of these individuals are employees of our contractor, we do not even have the right to terminate their employment."
Speaking at the rally, Democratic State Senator Daniel Squadron had an emphatic message for the company: "We would be glad to have WeWork in our district if they were responsible for the jobs they create, but WeWork doesn't work because they are underselling our workers."
Another night cleaner, Leinny Abreu, said she commutes every day from the Bronx for both her day job as a home attendant and her shift at the 23rd Street WeWork location. Working nearly all day and night, she says, "is necessary for supporting myself and a baby daughter at home."
Abreu has often considered quitting her WeWork job, and cites frequent double-duty nights she has worked to cover coworkers' absences, during which she receives the same $10/hr wage for singlehandedly cleaning two whole floors in under five hours.
"I've been here five months, and it's very hard work."