WeWork, a company that provides short-term office and meeting space to startups and entrepreneurs and has become a paragon of the innovation economy, is now the target of a labor action.
A union representing workers who clean office buildings in Boston rallied Monday afternoon outside WeWork’s South Station location to protest the wages earned by the nonunion workers who clean its offices.
Eugenio Villasante, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, said the cleaners for WeWork’s office earn around $10 an hour, while unionized cleaners average about $17 an hour. Most offices in downtown Boston are cleaned by unionized workers, Villasante said.
About 20 cleaners and union organizers participated in the protest, marching, waving flags, and chanting in Spanish outside WeWork’s Atlantic Avenue office near South Station. The rally included approximately four cleaners employed by Commercial Building Maintenance Corp., which services WeWork’s office, along with workers who clean nearby buildings.
“These workers are invisible unless they come together and say, ‘We’re invisible no more,’ ” said Roxana Rivera, a union leader who helped organize the protest.
Rivera noted that the SEIU has undertaken similar efforts in New York City, where WeWork has 17 locations, according to its website. The company ended its contract with Commercial Building Maintenance, which also provided cleaners to its New York locations, and created new in-house “community service” positions that will pay $15 or $18 an hour and include benefits. WeWork invited workers from Commercial Building Maintenance to apply.
But SEIU said it is concerned over a requirement by WeWork that applicants for the new positions would have to understand English.
Commercial Building Maintenance continues to provide WeWork with cleaners in Boston. The company did not return requests for comment.
During the rally in Boston, many tenants in the WeWork office declined to take fliers offered by the protesters; others said they were unaware the cleaners in their building were paid so little and did not earn benefits such as health insurance.
“Ten dollars an hour seems a little low, in my opinion,” said Guthrie Stanback, a 21-year-old Boston College student who is interning at one of the companies in the WeWork space.
Dalia Mendoza, a cleaner in the WeWork building who participated in the protest, said she earns about $220 for 25 hours of work cleaning bathrooms, mopping, and emptying trash bins.
“They don’t pay us enough,” she said through a translator. “It’s hard work.”
Mendoza said that while her husband also works, and she has applied to other jobs, the couple is struggling to make ends meet and care for their 7-year-old son. Worse, Mendoza said, most of the white-collar workers in the office were indifferent to her.
“There’s only one guy who asked how much I make,” she said.
A WeWork spokeswoman said the company would be “evaluating our options” when its Boston contract with the cleaning company ends, but she did not know when that would be. She added that the company may expand its practice of directly hiring “community service” workers if the new effort in New York is successful.
At WeWork’s two locations in Boston, small companies and freelancers can rent office space and meeting rooms to get work done and socialize with like-minded tech workers and entrepreneurs.