Justice for Janitors Day: Oregon Moves to Protect Vulnerable Workers

June 15 marks an important anniversary for janitors and security officers across the world. Each year, janitors across the country mark the occasion with major actions to continue to fight for good jobs. In Portland, members of the janitor’s union, SEIU 49, visited premier property managers and building owners to highlight the changing landscape of janitorial services in Oregon. Delivering copies of the new report, Cleaning Up Oregon’s Janitorial Industry, janitors put property owners ON NOTICE of the new licensing requirement for janitorial services in Oregon, and that, in some cases, their current contractors appear not be licensed to preform janitorial services.

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature took an exciting step by passing the Property Service Worker Protection Act (HB 3279), which is enforceable on July 1, 2018. The bill established a statewide registry for janitorial companies, requiring that all janitorial employers obtain a license from the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). Customers of janitorial services are legally required to ensure that the company they hire has a Property Services Contractor license. Janitorial clients who hire unlicensed contractors can be held jointly and severally liable for unpaid wages and attorneys’ fees.

It is now within property managers’ due diligence to check if there are unlicensed janitorial contractors operating in their buildings. A list of licensed contractors provided by BOLI to SEIU on June 4, 2018 did not include Millennium Building Services; other major non-union janitorial companies were notably absent from the list.

Also, just because a primary janitorial company is licensed does not mean that all janitorial contractors who clean your offices are. A common practice among even well-known companies is to subcontract to other lesser-known janitorial companies, and these sub-contracted companies may not be registered with the state. In our opinion, this practice would violate the new registry law and customers might be liable.

Janitors employed by subcontractors raise credible and serious concerns of misclassification of employees, wage theft including payment of below minimum wage, failure to secure worker’s compensation insurance, and threats when workers raise concerns to their employers. A clear reading of Oregon law is that a client may be held responsible for wage theft by unlicensed subcontractors.

Responsible building owners and managers can find a vetted list of contractors at RaiseAmericaPDX.org/responsible. All contractors listed as “responsible” on this site are licensed with Oregon’s BOLI, as well as meeting or exceeding areas standards for pay, benefits, working conditions, and protections for worker’s rights. 2018 marks another major step forward in the fight for Justice for Janitors.