SEIU Petitions Unicco to Rehire Two Workers

In response to the firing of two custodial workers over immigration paperwork issues, the Service Employees International Union Local 615 has begun efforts to get the workers reinstated.

Both workers were Harvard University custodians employed by Unicco Service Company, which the University contracts for janitorial services.

A delegation of about 15 people, primarily made up of workers, delivered a petition with more than 80 worker signatures to the Unicco offices at the Harvard Business School at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, demanding that Harvard give the two workers their jobs back.

Michael A. Sylvester, deputy director of higher education for SEIU Local 615, said that a manager at Unicco started to ask workers to provide documentation of their immigration status, with a deadline of two weeks to submit the papers. According to Sylvester, Unicco was acting under the terms of an old contract, but the current one has no two-week time limit.

Sylvester said that both employees submitted paperwork showing that their immigration statuses were “all in order.” However, because it took one of the custodians longer than two weeks to submit the papers, Unicco fired her about six months ago.

SEIU Local 615 representative Heather S. Vega said that the second custodian had in fact turned in his papers before the two-week deadline. However, Vega said that Unicco lost the paperwork, claimed not to have it, and then found it.

The second custodian was let go about two months ago, before the papers were found. Both custodians are currently unemployed.

Unicco also fired a third worker because of a failure to collect the proper paperwork, Sylvester said.

On Thursday, the delegation brought the petition to the office of Unicco manager Edgar Ventura at the Harvard Business School Operations Center. Because Ventura was not in the office, the petition was delivered to his assistant. Ventura did not respond to requests for comment.

Nancy Diaz, a Unicco employee at the Harvard Business School, led the delegation in delivering the petition on the behalf of her coworkers.

“I’m here on behalf of my fellow Unicco workers,” Diaz said. “We will keep on supporting them until they get their jobs back.”

Ventura’s assistant, Edmer Izaguirre, told the delegation that the Unicco human resources department was responsible for handling the matter but that he would pass along the message, Vega said.

Sylvester said that SEIU will pursue further action next week if Unicco is not responsive to the petition’s demands. He would not rule out public protests or demonstrations.

“What we hope to accomplish is to make Unicco reconsider what we see as an unjust policy of selectively choosing employees to look at their immigration status,” Sylvester said. “The idea of the union is that everyone is treated fairly and that the contract sets out rules which allow a discussion between the letter of the law and what’s fair to everybody.”

Clio Griffin ’15, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement, was the only student from the College in the delegation.

“The firings were completely unfair,” Griffin said. “[Harvard] College students will continue to be there to support [the two custodians] until this is settled.”

—Staff writer Dan Dou can be reached at