Challenge Unlimited is vacating its court contract; now janitors are fighting
By TIM ROWDEN
Under unrelenting pressure from Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 and facing public scrutiny from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, Challenge Unlimited (CU), the company providing janitorial services at the 22nd Circuit Court building in St. Louis, is vacating its contract and will cease operations effective April 3.
For months, Challenge Unlimited janitors with disabilities represented by Local 1 have spoken out about the discrimination they face on the job and fought for equality and justice for non-union workers and people with disabilities working at the 22nd Circuit Court.
A provider chosen by the courts, CU wrongfully fired Marvin King, a worker with a documented disability, misled the city as to the cost of its services and is facing an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for misapplying the federal AbilityOne model designating workers with disabilities as “clients,” resulting in King being denied access to unemployment insurance because of his disability.
The City of St. Louis was also investigating Challenge Unlimited and took up a resolution in January calling on the city “to contract janitorial services with a responsible provider at the 22nd Circuit Court,” and for the Board of Aldermen to “support Challenge Unlimited workers striving to organize a union that will provide job protections and equality for all hard-working janitors at the 22nd Circuit Court.”
Now that Challenge Unlimited is vacating its contract and ceasing operations, janitors face a new challenge – protecting their jobs under a new contractor.
“My coworkers and I deserve to keep our jobs even though the City’s living wage ordinance lacks a worker retention provision,” said Challenge Unlimited janitor Martin Wilson. “Now it’s time for the court to select a responsible contractor that’s committed to retaining all existing employees and raising standards.”
CALL TO ACTION
Union members, Challenge Unlimited workers and community and faith leaders will gather Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. at 11th and Market streets, next to the Freedom Suits memorial outside the Circuit Court building to demand the court select a responsible contractor committed to retaining the workers and raising standards.
For more information, contact SEIU Local 1 Coordinator Carl Walter at 314-246-1399.