Janitors fight back against Challenge Unlimited’s ‘straightforward discrimination’ against disabled workers

Rally planned for Dec. 14

Managing Editor

CHALLENGE UNLIMITED JANITORS, SEIU Local 1 members, faith leaders and elected officials marched from the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court in St. Louis to City Hall on Oct. 27 to demand the City hold Challenge Unlimited accountable for its treatment of disabled workers and unfair Labor practices. Another rally is planned for noon on Dec. 14 outside the courts building. – Labor Tribune photo

Janitors represented by Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 are continuing their fight for equality and justice for non-union workers and people with disabilities working at the 22nd Judicial Court building in St. Louis with a rally outside the court on Dec. 14 to demand the City terminate its contract with irresponsible contractor Challenge Unlimited.

A contractor chosen by the Courts, Challenge Unlimited (CU) wrongfully fired Marvin King, a worker with a documented disability, misled the City as to the cost of its services and is now facing an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the City of St. Louis.

CU designates workers with disabilities as “clients” and withholds unemployment insurance from them because of an exemption in the state Unemployment Insurance law that allows employers to do so whenever they’re providing vocational and rehabilitative services to them. But that’s not what CU does, janitors and organizers complain.

“I started working for Challenge Unlimited in 2020 after suffering a severe stroke that left me with limited mobility and some cognitive impairment,” said King. “At the court, I did the same work as every other janitor: sweeping, mopping, cleaning restrooms and taking out trash.

“My coworkers and I always performed the same services and labor, regardless of whether we’re disabled,” King said. “CU never provided anyone with rehabilitation or vocational services, so I never understood why we were ineligible.”

King decided to speak out about the “straightforward discrimination” of CU’s policy, and CU responded by firing him.

King is organizing with Local 1 to build a coalition of Civil Rights groups to help put an end to discrimination against people with disabilities at the court.

“This is an issue of disability rights and discrimination against people with disabilities within the very halls of justice,” said Carl Walter, external organizing coordinator for SEIU Local 1.

Local 1 has held several rallies outside the court building, most recently at City Hall Oct. 27, when janitors, organizers, elected officials and faith leaders marched to City Hall to demand the City to terminate its contract with CU.

Martin Wilson has worked for CU at the Civil Court building in the city for almost a year and has been in the janitorial industry for more than 10 years.

“I worked at a union building in downtown St. Louis prior to working for CU, and I can tell you from my own experience that being a member of SEIU Local 1 has the potential to improve our lives.”

Wilson was told he would be working as a floor technician when he was hired by CU. Floor technicians strip, wax, polish and maintain floors as part of routine service in most buildings.

“In my experience, floor technicians usually earn more per hour than janitors and day porters,” Wilson said. “I assumed I’d be working as a floor technician at the court, but apparently stripping and waxing floors isn’t part of our normal routine. I only work as a floor technician occasionally, and when I do I’m paid the same rate as CU janitors and day porters.

“I believe standards should be higher for workers at the court,” he said, adding: “I’m going to fight until we win improvements like better pay, job protections and paid time off, but I can’t do it alone.

“We all have a great opportunity in front of us to potentially improve our lives, but to win we must all stay united and work together!”

The rally against Challenge Unlimited is scheduled for noon on Wednesday, Dec. 14 outside the Civil Courts Building at 10 N. Tucker Blvd. in St. Louis.


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