As the property service local of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU Local 32BJ often works in private sectors that are often inhospitable to labor organizing.
So far in 2023, these obstacles have taken the form of protecting the union status of low-wage subcontracted workers. At Twitter’s headquarters in Manhattan and PepsiCo in Westchester County, 32BJ-affiliated cleaners and security guards have respectively run into difficulties after the corporations tried to change or cut off services with
contractors who directly employ the workers.
When PepsiCo changed security contractors at its locations in Purchase and Valhalla, New York, the new security provider, AGB Investigative Services, Inc., came close to running afoul of the National Labor Relations Act after it initially indicated that it was withdrawing union recognition of Pepi’s 50 security officers.
The union has said that PepsiCo also violated a local version of a law that the union pushed hard to expand in 2019 that gives protections to service workers when a building or contract changes hands. Pepsi did not give required notice under Westchester’s Displaced Workers Protection Law that it was changing contractors in December, the union said.
That impasse between the union, the security contractor, and Pepsi by extension, may be on track to finding a resolution, however. After Labor Press sent an inquiry to Pepsi about the union’s allegations, the soda giant publicized for the first time that the contractor had decided to reverse course by recognizing the union and resume
“AGB has informed us that they have communicated to SEIU that they recognize them as the representative of security workers at PepsiCo’s Purchase and Valhalla facilities and have asked the union to engage in good faith bargaining with them. We are hopeful that the two parties will soon reach a resolution,” wrote a Pepsi spokesperson.
A 32BJ spokesperson told Labor Press that Pepsi had reached out to the union around the time the company had responded to our inquiry to inform them that AGB would be resuming bargaining.
“We are happy to hear AGB has decided to recognize 32BJ SEIU as the bargaining representative of the security guards at the Purchase and Valhalla facilities and look forward to bargaining with them in good faith,” said 32BJ Vice President Shirley Aldebol in response to the news.
Below, Labor Press has published a Q&A that we held with Aldebol before AGB broke the news that it would continue to negotiate with the union. The conversation covers both specifics of the Pepsi dispute in addition to a broader discussion of how the Displaced Service Employees Protection Law works to improve worker standards. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
LaborPress: I wanted to start by asking for a timeline of what’s been happening to the security guards at PepsiCo in the Hudson Valley.
Shirley Aldebol: Sometime in December while we were negotiating the contract with Securitas, who was the former contractor at PepsiCo and Allied Universal, the two biggest contractors here in Westchester County — we were told by Securitas tha PepsiCo was going to award the contract for security services at PepsiCo to a non- union contractor. At the time, they didn’t know who the contractor was and it was clearly going to be non-union. We found out that they were a company based out of Chicago, and we reached out to the union in Chicago, and they told us, [32BJ], [the other local] had a contract with them. They had to have a fight with them to get a contract, but they had finally signed one with them, and then basically put us in touch with them. We then sent out a letter alerting them that they had to hire the workers because the displaced worker law applied that we were the union that represented the workers there and the workers. We were making an application for employment on their behalf. This was all happening right before the holidays.
Our rep actually met them at the site when he went to talk to workers. During all this time, no communication from PepsiCo to alert us that they were changing contractors, which here in Westchester is a violation of the Displaced Service Employees Protection Law. They communicated with our rep and asked our rep to have us send them our contracts and any information to them. And we agreed. We told them that we were still in negotiations with the contractors for a new agreement, which expired December 31st. So we sent them the old agreement. They told us, ‘Well, as soon as you negotiate the new agreement, please send that to us.’
We sent it to them once we settled it, then they proceeded to have their lawyer communicate with our lawyer — at which point they said to the lawyer, ‘We reviewed the contract and we can’t pay for the cost of healthcare because of our agreement with PepsiCo.’ And at some point in that conversation with our attorney said ‘We have our own health insurance. Is there a way that we can work out some kind of a ramp up to your health insurance?’ Our attorney then made a request to get the information about their health plan, and then heard nothing back from them.
We sent them a letter, basically making the same request in writing. Then a week later — or two weeks later — we basically got a letter from them saying that they were not recognizing the union and not going to bargain with us. We see that as an all unlawful recognition, especially since, from our perspective, they were bargaining with us. They started the process of bargaining, and then just arbitrarily withdrew recognition. So we, so we filed the [unfair labor practice]. We looked at the displaced worker law and found that PepsiCo also violated the law by not giving us the required 15 day notice. So that’s where we are now. We’re in a dispute with AGB and we’re appealing to Pepsi to either make it right or hire a contractor that’s not going to violate the law and lower standards for workers.
LaborPress: I want to focus on the Displaced Worker Law violation first. What kind of result is the union hoping to see from upholding this law?
Aldebol: They were supposed to give us 15 days before terminating the service contract, which would’ve at least given us the opportunity to reach out to PepsiCo and be able to get ahead of this instead of trying to figure out who the contractor was, and also alerting the workers, which they didn’t do. Luckily someone from another local within SEIU had their contact information, but aside from that Pepsi didn’t share anything with us, so it made it more difficult to establish any kind of bargaining relationship with them.
LaborPress: More generally, why is it important to focus around these issues around subcontracted workers during a contractor flip of this kind?
Aldebol: As of last week, the workers at PepsiCo lost their health insurance. In less than 60 days, they become at-will employees, which means that the current contractor can fire them for no reason. They have no protections of a union contract. It’s important that during the 90 days that they’re employed by the new contractor, that we can establish a labor management relationship with the new contractor and try to get to a collective bargaining agreement with them. That’s a big deal for the workers.
LaborPress: And the union was initially trying to build off of the existing bargaining contract with this new contractor?
Aldebol: Right. Well, we’re trying to bargain a contract that doesn’t lower their standards. If they have a health insurance plan we want to know what it is to make sure that the workers aren’t going to lose something. Right now it doesn’t look like the workers are going to have a plan that’s even close to what they were getting when they were employed by the union contractor.
LaborPress: Are there specific services that are being cut out from this other health plan that the contractor is offering?
Aldebol: We’re having our folks do an analysis of it, but on its face, they want the workers to pay the premiums. They get to choose if they want a higher premium plan with low deductibles or a lower premium plan with very high
deductibles, both of which our members up here probably can’t afford to pay. We’re looking at what services this
plan provides, but clearly there’s, there’s a lot of out-of-pocket expense that our members cannot afford. So
they’re likely not going to participate in their plan, which means that they won’t have to cover healthcare costs.
LaborPress: There was recently another potential violation of the Displaced Service Worker Protection Law in New York City with cleaners at the Twitter offices who are having similar issues with a contract flip. How does the security guards’ situation compare to other union fights over this issue in the state? How common are these types
Aldebol: Last year we had a fight here in downtown White Plains at the City Center Mall, which got rid of a union contractor and brought in a non-union contractor. They didn’t hire the workers, by seniority as per the law. And so the workers that brought a claim to state court, they settled the claim — they paid the workers some back pay and offered them jobs. And then in addition to that we had a massive field campaign and [the contractor] ultimately signed a union contract.
LaborPress: For the displacement law, what does enforcement look like?
Aldebol: When we filed a claim here at City Center, it was in state court.
LaborPress: As a union that is well resourced and growing in numbers, how does 32BJ see its role in taking on these types of fights around subcontracted workers and enforcing local laws?
Aldebol: For now the majority of the workers that we represent are here in Westchester County, and NYC and Long Island. As we expand our organizing efforts we certainly will visit that when we get there. But we also have the displaced worker legislation on Long Island.