Janitors protest layoffs, wages at suburban pharmaceutical giant
Despite the bad weather, a group of 50 suburban janitors, many of them Latino immigrants, protested in bright rain slickers Tuesday outside Philadelphia at the Teva pharmaceutical corporation U.S. headquarters.
The workers are members of the service workers union 32BJ SEIU. The story that brings them to the picket line is a familiar one: Back in March of this year, Teva’s suburban office fired a union contractor that employed 10 janitors — again, mostly Latinos.
The Israeli pharmaceutical company opted to employ non-union laborers instead. Some 200 union members from 32 BJ SEIU took to the streets in protest back in August, but the drugmaker continues to employ non-union cleaners. In solidarity with the national day of action calling to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, they took up their protest signs again.
"Our hope is that they rehire our colleagues, because all the employees who were working here were laid off,” said Alejandra Alvarado, a 49-year old suburban cleaner at the protest and member of 32BJ.
A full-time janitor makes about $12.35 an hour, according to the union.
“We can't support our families with the salaries we earn now,” Alvarado said. “We are trying to offer sustenance for our families, but with the extra expenses like clothes, shoes — we also have to pay the rent … In winter, everything is more expensive."
A spokesperson for Teva said "we have no comment" on the matter.
In its 2014 annual report, Teva outlined a strategy to decrease its workforce headcount by 10 percent by the end of the year. It was called “a significant pillar” of the company’s financial strategy. Expected savings were meant to be put back into the business. At the company’s Israeli headquarters, local unions spoke against the cutbacks.
“The announced plan for headcount reductions has generated intense governmental and union opposition in Israel and may generate similar opposition in European countries and other locations where we have significant numbers of unionized employees,” the report noted.
The corporation is concerned that if union opposition becomes too strong, “other aspects” of its strategy may be “slowed or undermined.”
TEVA reported $21 billion in revenues worldwide last year. The union janitors they laid off were reporting under $12 an hour.
For the unionized cleaners, the coming month is one of uncertainty. 32BJ’s suburban contract is set to expire on Dec. 15, which will affect some 1,400 cleaners who maintain the facilities of multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies in the Philadelphia suburbs.
In the eleventh hour and with authorization to strike, the union’s Center City counterpart was able to secure a contract last month.