The Unicco Service Company will rehire two custodians formerly employed at Harvard Business School, according to Sarah Betancourt, a spokesperson for Service Employees International Union Local 615, the union which represents both employees.
The two custodians were fired by Unicco last year when the company alleged that their immigration paperwork was out of order. A third worker was fired around the same time for a similar reason but decided to leave permanently, according to Betancourt.
The decision came only a day after a delegation of about 15 people delivered a petition with over 80 worker signatures demanding that the custodians be rehired by the Unicco office at the Business School.
Wayne M. Langley, the director of higher education for SEIU Local 615, credited the petition for Unicco’s decision.
“We think it’s the right thing to do,” Langley said. “We’re happy that Unicco has made the right decision here. Obviously it was a result of the coverage and the petition and the march on the boss.”
Langley said that the two employees’ paperwork had in fact been mishandled, but neither employee presented any liability for Unicco, which Harvard contracts to provide janitorial services.
“Unicco was within its contractual rights to do this,” Langley said. “For long term employers, you would expect that they would give them the benefit of the doubt. These people are not numbers.”
“We felt like they were being unreasonable,” Langley added.
Unicco representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. Blanca, one of the rehired employees who asked to be referred to by only her first name, has worked at Harvard College as a Unicco employee for ten years.
Speaking to The Crimson with aid from an SEIU interpreter, Blanca said that she did not turn in her immigration documents to Unicco on time last September.
A single mother with five children, she said that her six-month long unemployment caused her to sink into depression and made day-to-day living very difficult.
“The Unicco labor relations guy said that I quit because I chose to,” she said. “I said, ‘How could I not work? If you don’t work, you don’t eat.’ That’s how you survive.”
The second custodian could not be reached for comment.
Heather S. Vega, an SEIU Local 615 representative and one of the union members who delivered the petition to Unicco’s office on Thursday, said that she saw the pair’s rehiring as inevitable.
“They hadn’t done anything wrong,” Vega said. “We weren’t going to stop putting pressure on [Unicco].”
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