On Thursday, co-working startup WeWork issued a formal response to its 150 nonunion subcontracted custodians—workers who spent much of July in limbo, after learning that their current jobs, characterized by low pay and no benefits, will no longer exist come August 23rd. This, thanks to a nullified contract between cleaning subcontractor Commercial Building Maintenance (CBM), and WeWork.
Rather than seek another subcontractor to carry out custodial duties across its 15 New York City co-working spaces, WeWork has announced that it will be bringing its cleaning services in-house, under two new, fancy-sounding job titles—Community Services Associate (CSA) and Community Services Lead (CSL). In an official statement, WeWork COO Artie Minson explained that these 100-odd CSAs and CSLs will have starting "competitive" hourly wages of $15 and $18 respectively, plus "generous" healthcare benefits, a 401(k) plan, and even equity in the company.
Minson added that these new employees "will participate in our community-wide events such as Summer Camp and the Halloween party and company-wide events." The position will, however, have "much broader" responsibilities than the custodial jobs outlined by CBM, split across day and night shifts. In addition to cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, elevators and offices—and restocking office supplies and setting up kegs—these workers will also be called on to perform "digital" tasks, including "metrics analysis" for a customer service software called Zendesk.
Since June 18th, SEIU 32BJ, a branch of the country's largest service workers' union, has been campaigning with WeWork's subcontracted custodians for higher wages and benefits. In a letter addressed to 32BJ Vice President Shirley Aldebol on Thursday, WeWork operations head Chris Hill wrote, "Now that CBM has finally lifted the restrictions on hiring employees, we encourage all CBM employees who meet the requirements of the new roles to submit applications."
According to WeWork, the company didn't even have the right to recruit CBM cleaners until last Friday, July 31st, due to certain "restrictions" in the CBM contract.
Whether all, or even the majority, of these workers will be hired by WeWork is another question. Minson told Buzzfeed that about 95 CSA and CSL positions will be filled. The application isn't limited to former CBM cleaners, of whom there are about 150.
The majority of those soon-to-be-former CBM cleaners are Spanish-speaking, and some are troubled by a finer-print requirement, listed in the application under "soft skills": "Ability to communicate in English." (An earlier draft of the CSA application, sent to 32BJ yesterday, called for English "fluency.") Under CBM, there was no English requirement.
"I think that's a discriminatory requirement," said Leinny Olivo, 26, through a translator. Olivo lives in the Bronx, and has been working as a night cleaner at WeWork's East 23rd Street location for six months. On a typical shift she picks up trash and left-over coffee cups, sweeps and cleans the hallways, and cleans conference rooms.
"The mops don't speak English," she said. "You don't really need it to clean the floors. The garbage cans and bathrooms and kitchens don't speak English."
Olivo added that her own level of English has been "plenty for her to communicate" on the job, since she understands all of the vocabulary pertaining to her work responsibilities. She says that although she hasn't yet gone over the CSA job description in detail, she is definitely going to apply.