Walter Reed janitors to rally over nonpayment

November 12, 2012

The union representing about 250 janitors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center who haven’t been paid for their last two weeks of work is planning a rally Tuesday and has filed complaints with the Department of Labor and other government agencies on behalf of the workers.

Escab Enterprises failed to distribute biweekly paychecks to janitors at Walter Reed on Friday, Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Julie Karant said. It did not tell them when they could expect the money, she said.

Escab’s management declined to comment Monday.

Gabriel Rivera, a janitor at Walter Reed, said he was told by a manager that the company had not been paid by the government and could not issue checks.

“Everybody was stunned when we found out,” said Rivera, who was expecting about $635. “There should have been a note, a notification, an e-mail saying the company was going through a crisis.”

Walter Reed spokeswoman Sandy Dean said the janitors will be paid in the next few days. Escab sent the hospital an invoice with errors and Walter Reed couldn’t pay the contractor until the errors were resolved, Dean said.

“We’re very sorry that this happened, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that they are paid in a timely manner,” Dean said.

But even if Escab did not receive its federal payment, it is legally obligated to pay its workers on time, Karant said. The union has asked Walter Reed to withhold the payment to Escab and distribute the money to the janitors.

The Walter Reed janitors work in the National Navy Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University. About 32 Escab janitors at the Internal Revenue Service were not paid Friday, Karant said. The union has asked the IRS to withhold payment to Escab.

Although protests are forbidden on Walter Reed’s grounds, janitors plan to gather at the Medical Center Metro station Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., Karant said.

Escab’s contract with Walter Reed is about to expire, and a new employer will take over in about two weeks, Rivera said.

Dean said a switch in contractors did not cause the payment problem.

Rivera said this is not the first time there have been payment issues with Escab. At the end of October, at least 50 Walter Reed janitors’ paychecks bounced, he said.

The payment problems have been stressful, said Rivera, who fears consequences for missing child support payments.

“When you have children, you need to put food on the table for them,” he said. “You don’t play with the court.”

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