SEIU Local 1 janitors call on City of St. Louis to replace Challenge Unlimited with a responsible contractor

Resolution will go before Board of Aldermen in January


SEIU LOCAL 1 janitors, St. Louis aldermanic leaders and community allies rally outside the 22nd the Civil Courts building Dec. 14 after introducing a resolution calling on the City to replace Challenge Unlimited with a responsible provider.
– Labor Tribune photo

Challenge Unlimited janitors represented by Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 were joined by St. Louis aldermanic leaders and community allies outside the Civil Courts building in St. Louis Dec. 14 to introduce a resolution in support of people with disabilities at the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court.

For months, Challenge Unlimited (CU) workers with disabilities 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 Judicial Court. They have also spoken out against the mismanagement they say exemplifies Challenge Unlimited’s policies.

“We’ve been here working against Challenge Unlimited for over six months now and we’re going to continue to fight and keep showing up to put pressure on them,” said Mia King, an organizer with SEIU Local 1. “This fight will continue. We have to have rights. We have to have good working conditions for all of our workers, especially when they’re taking advantage of workers with disabilities.

“We’re here today to get support for a resolution that we’re going to present in January for all workers with disabilities in the city and the state of Missouri.”

A powerful non-profit corporation with contracts at the federal and state level and substantial influence in the federal AbilityOne contract universe, CU offers a clear example of the hurdles and discrimination workers with disabilities face while the company and its executives reap substantial profits, King said.

A provider chosen by the courts, CU wrongfully fired Marvin King (no relation), 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.

King says Challenge Unlimited fired him for attempting to organize a union to improve working conditions. After his termination, it became clear that Challenge was misapplying the federal AbilityOne model at the 22nd Circuit Judicial Court of Missouri, resulting in King being denied access to unemployment insurance because of his disability.

King has been continuing his work with SEIU Local 1 to get a fair contract for CU workers in the circuit court.

“I’m all for the union,” King said in a brief speech outside the courthouse. “I thank you guys, for being here today and for being supportive of me and my other co-workers.”

Challenge Unlimited has a contract with the City of St. Louis under the jurisdiction of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

The resolution, which will be introduced to the Board of Aldermen in January, calls 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.”

Alderman Jimmy Lappe (11th Ward) joined in the rally along with Alderwoman Annie Rice (8th Ward) to show their support for the CU janitors.

“We’re really excited to get this resolution passed when we get back in January,” Lappe said. “St. Louis is a  union town, and we need to make sure that every worker in the city gets treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. That everybody can form a union, that people can have things as basic as their unemployment insurance rights. What Challenge Unlimited is doing here is just horribly irresponsible in a city like St. Louis, and we just aren’t going to let it happen again.”

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