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Fort Belvoir janitors strike over grievance process... and pay to drive the corporate car?

Tuesday - 7/29/2014, 12:58pm  ET

Fort Belvoir janitors went on strike for a change in how grievances are processed — and for added pay to drive the corporate car?

Janitors that work at Fort Belvoir went on strike Tuesday morning, claiming their employer, Brown and Pipkins, refused to bargain contract terms in good faith. But Brown and Pipkins claims that it came down to two sticking points it only learned about Monday night — one of which involved added pay to drive the corporate cars.

About 70 janitors followed through on a promise I reported about Monday, that they would strike if their employer Brown and Pipkins refused to negotiated their contract. The Service Employees International Union, representing the janitors, filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the contractor, alleging it refused to bargain in good faith and refused to process grievances in accordance with the procedures laid out in the employees’ collective bargaining agreement.

I heard from Brown and Pipkins CEO Deidre Brown Tuesday morning, who conceded that the issue of grievance processing was a sticking point the company and union had been going back and forth about for weeks — with janitors demanding a union representative be authorized to present grievances, she said, rather than a steward employed by the company.

But there was another demand as well: additional pay for drivers of corporate cars.

“They think even though it’s four in the car, the person driving should get paid more than others in the car. They’re saying they have more responsibility,” Brown said. “But anyone in the car can drive — so how do we handle when the one supposed to drive is out sick, and someone else does it instead? We’re not giving everyone an increase” on top of the 4 percents wage increase already included in the proposed package.

Union spokeswoman Julie Karant noted the added driver rate was something janitors did receive in 2012, until the company took it away “so workers are not asking for anything new.”

“We do maintenance and gas them up. I’m just not sure it’s taxpayer-conscious to also pay people to drive them,” added Brown, who estimated employees drive an average of four to five miles a day, including to and from lunch.

Those two points aside, Brown said the latest proposed package included a 4 percent wage increase, and a 3.5 percent increase each year after. (Employees paid $15.01 per hour now would get a bump up to $15.60, and those getting paid $16.01 per hour would get $16.60). The contractor would also pay a 21 percent increase in benefit coverage, which includes health and welfare, union benefits and pension, with a 3.5 percent increase each year there after. It would also move the date that raises kick in from Oct.1 to Sept. 1.

“We’ve come a long way; this is a great package for employees,” Brown said, noting that negotiations kicked off back in September and that about 15 versions of the contract have passed hands. “With significant notice yesterday, they would not have had to strike today. But I didn’t find out until 7 p.m. that they would be striking, which is also when we received a counter. There was no way my team could respond before this morning."

While not addressing Brown's claim about receiving the counter the evening before the strike, Karant said the company has caused an incredible delay, refusing to timely return counterproposals, or meet in person.

"t's irresponsible to bargain through the media, workers want to bargain with them directly," she added. "Unfortunately, their refusal to meet and bargain with us in a timely way is preventing that."

Monday afternoon, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, weighed in on the situation, sending a letter to the garrison commander at the Fairfax County Army installation to take appropriate action “to ensure the contractors are held responsible for their actions.”

© 2014 American City Business Journals, Inc.