Twitter’s New York janitors continue pressure campaign against abrupt layoffs

A group of unionized janitors who were abruptly laid off shortly after Elon Musk took over the company rallied to fight for their jobs on Wednesday.

The cleaners gathered with their union SEIU 32BJ at Twitter’s 245-249 West 17th St. office in the meatpacking district to protest the social media company’s terminations of its contract with their employers Flagship Services.

“We were there to keep the office clean during the pandemic. And now we have no job. It is a crisis for me and my family. I am a single mother with four kids,” said Merita Gashi, one of the cleaners laid off from the Chelsea office.

The 12 cleaners say they received a text on the evening of Dec. 19 that the contract with their employer and their jobs were being immediately terminated. 

The rally is part of a pressure campaign that the union is waging in New York and at the social media company’s other office in San Francisco where another 48 members of its building staff were laid off ahead of the new year.

At the end of the month, the worker’s health insurance will lapse, which would cause financial turmoil for many of them. Gashi said that chronic medical issues will leave her with thousands of dollars of debt shortly after they expire. Her coworker Laureta Gjoni said that she will need medical check ups after recently donating a kidney.

Photo: Max Parrott

The union says that abrupt termination of the workers’ contract may have run afoul of city law, but only if the building’s owner has hired other workers to clean the building in the workers’ absence. 

Under the City Council’s Displaced Building Service Workers Protection Act, incoming third-party cleaning contractors must retain cleaners employed by an outgoing contractor for a transition period to stop workers from being suddenly without work. 

“If they get rid of a contracted worker and they bring in another contracted worker, then these workers are protected,” said 32BJ Secretary Treasurer John Santos. “We’re gonna take every appropriate action that we can take to win this fight.”

At the moment the union said that it appears that Twitter employees are no longer using the building, but says it’s still not clear whether it’s being cleaned or not.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. 

The rally was joined by several members of the janitorial staff in Twitter’s San Fran office who were laid off earlier in December. In that case, the San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said he was looking into whether Twitter broke a similar labor law.

Councilman Eric Bottcher who represents the area joined the protest. He said that he had reached out to the Department of Consumer Worker Protections and found out that under the law action has to be taken privately either by individuals or the union, but he will be keeping an eye on the situation. 

“This is not how we treat workers here in New York City. The fact that they threw these people out on the street days before Christmas with zero explanation after all the years of service they provided — that’s unconscionable,” he told amNY.