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Janitors At UW Tacoma Rally Over Lack Of Benefits And Low Pay

Labor activists plan to rally today at the University of Washington Tacoma campus on behalf of the school’s janitorial workers. They’re drawing attention to the cleaning staff’s lack of benefits and low pay.

The UW Tacoma campus has a contract with a local Tacoma cleaning company called SMS Cleaning. Zaneta Woodard worked as a janitor at the campus for about a year until last September when she quit over what she describes as poor working conditions. 

“It’s no health insurance, no sick days, no vacation pay — pretty much nothing,” she said.

Woodard says not having any sick leave meant she often had to show up at work when she was ill.

“The only thing you could do is take an Alka-Seltzer and go slow all day,” she said, adding going slow was tough because the cleaning staff was pressured to get their work done fast.

Janitors at the university’s campuses in Seattle and Bothell are employed directly by the university. A staffer with the Service Employees International Union, which has been working with the UW Tacoma janitors, says the university should either stop contracting out the cleaning work or require the contractor to improve conditions for the workers.

Mike Wark, a spokesman for UW Tacoma, says the university contracts janitorial service through a state contract that spells out policies, including a requirement that workers earn the prevailing wage.

He says the school will start evaluating this summer whether to bring the work in-house before the contract expires later this year. But he says the university wants to create a good working environment for all employees, regardless of whether they're directly employed or employed by a contractor.

The owner of SMS Cleaning didn’t respond to voicemail messages.  

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.