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Before city officials inked their deal with Major League Baseball, they argued that a franchise would bring jobs and economic-development opportunities to D.C. residents. Elijah Scriver, a 57-year-old District native and resident of the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), the city’s largest homeless shelter, is one beneficiary. He says he’s worked at RFK Stadium four times, cleaning the stands after the last out.
“[T]hey work you like a slave,” he says. “[Picking up trash] took me almost five hours of constantly bending. I must have filled up 10 bags of Miller Lite bottles.” Scriver and two other CCNV residents say they were not given breaks during their shifts and were paid $7 an hour. It takes as many as 200 men and women to clean up after a sold-out Nationals game, wiping, sweeping, and power-washing away the mess of 48,000 fans.
Paying day-labor janitors at RFK in the $7 range runs afoul of federal law. The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which oversees events at RFK Stadium and the nearby D.C. Armory, acknowledged on May 3 that at least one of the companies supervising workers at RFK seems to be in violation of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA). The act guarantees the federally determined prevailing wage for all employees of federal and District government agencies and contractors. Labor lawyers Kerry O’Brien of the D.C. Employment Justice Center and Terry Yellig of Sherman, Dunn, Cohen, Leifer & Yellig were the first to contend that the act applied to cleanup jobs at RFK. For janitors, that mandatory wage is $10.12, and must be supplemented by a $2.59 health and welfare benefit.
According to Tony Robinson, spokesperson for the Sports Commission, underpayment was committed by NAI Personnel, a subcontractor to Knight Facilities Management, which currently provides the bulk of RFK’s janitorial services. “We looked into it, we’re going to resolve it, and the folks are going to be compensated appropriately,” Robinson says, adding that the commission’s contract with Knight requires that all of Knight’s subcontractors at RFK be paid the prevailing wage. “We would hold Knight responsible to make sure their subcontractors are managing the contract appropriately,” he adds.
NAI President Oscar Hannaway says that as of last week, his temp agency was no longer working at RFK Stadium. But while it did, he says, the Workforce Organization for Regional Collaboration, a nonprofit job organization, and the D.C. Office of Employment Services recruited workers for NAI. A number of those hires came from CCNV. With 1,300 mostly un- and underemployed men and women, CCNV and its sister shelters are a natural draw for contractors and temp agencies in search of manual labor.
“Sometimes they’re not treated all that well. That’s what happens,” says Skip Watkins, CCNV’s interim executive director, of the homeless men and women who often take those jobs. “But they need the money.”
The commission’s prevailing-wage problems do not appear to be restricted solely to its contractors. At least one of the firms that cleaned up at RFK, low-wage-worker-placement service Labor Ready, paid its employees at or near minimum wage and reports that it was hired directly by the commission itself. Three Sundays ago, “we had about 120, 130 [workers] there,” says Bailey Daniel, the manager for Labor Ready’s Alabama Avenue branch. Labor Ready was contracted by the commission to work four or five games, Daniel recalls. He says the commission did not tell Labor Ready that prevailing-wages rules should apply. “Those are federal regulations to pay that money,” he says, “and they should have known that.”
Low-wage, graveyard-shift janitorial work is not one of the jobs that baseball-boosting District officials boasted about bringing to D.C., and perhaps one they never thought of at all. For years, the commission paid Eagle Maintenance and Janitorial Service to clean up RFK Stadium after events. In mid-April, however, Eagle, which did not return repeated calls for comment, was dumped because it “did not perform up to the standards that we or the Nationals expected,” Robinson says. Eagle was replaced by a new contractor, Saginaw, Mich.–based Knight, after the Nationals’ first few home games.
It would be a concern to the commission, Robinson said, if it turned out that Knight had knowingly hired subcontractors that would pay less than the prevailing wage. But “our understanding,” Robinson says, “is that they will do what they need to do to make it right.”
Wage considerations notwithstanding, the commission is happy with Knight’s work. The commission initially signed the company to a short-term contract after the start of the season, but Robinson says that a new three-month, $785,000 deal with Knight was signed on Wednesday.
As for the possibility that the commission itself directly issued contracts that paid less than the prevailing wage, Robinson says, “If that is in fact correct, we’re going to go back and fix the problem.”
Robinson also notes that the commission will be looking into whether some of NAI Personnel’s temporary workers were shorted on the number of hours for which they were paid. Three CCNV residents have claimed that they had been required by NAI to show up at the stadium substantially before their paid cleaning shift started—a possible violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and D.C. law, according to the D.C. Employment Justice Center’s O’Brien. “We don’t get on the clock until after everybody signs up,” Scriver says. “That’s a two-hour process.”
Hannaway denies that NAI’s RFK Stadium employees endured such long uncompensated waits, and says that employees were required to report for work only half an hour before their shift started. “Half an hour is not unreasonable,” he says. “You want everyone to start on time.”
Another Knight-hired subcontractor, Maryland-based Paj Business Staffing, also concedes that its employees were paid far less than prevailing wage. “We have told all of our people they have an additional $5.71 [an hour] coming to them,” says Phyllis Stevenson-Jenkins, Paj’s owner. She would have loved to pay that rate initially, she says, because “It’s a win-win situation for us—we can bill higher.” She says that Knight allowed her to bill only $10 an hour for each worker—“way, way under [SCA] wage determination.” To pay the federal prevailing wage and just break even, she would have had to charge Knight $12.71 per employee hour.
On Tuesday, Stevenson-Jenkins says, she spoke with Knight about the cause of the shortfall. “They are saying they were not told it was a [prevailing-wage contract],” she says.
Not all of the Sports Commission’s contractors and subcontractors at RFK say they were in the dark about prevailing-wage issues, however. Designmark, a local janitorial company, says that it pays all of its employees “at minimum” $10 an hour—as its contract with the commission requires. Its president, Patrick McRae, cannot explain why other contractors might not have been working under those same rules.
Robinson attributes the commission’s day-labor-wage oversight to the “breakneck speed” at which it has had to work to get the stadium up and running. “Everybody here has worked our butts off,” he says. “And our board of directors will say the same thing. But if there are any areas where we have fallen short, it is our goal to make it right.” Robinson says the commission has recently embarked on a wholesale review of its contracts, including those unrelated to its janitorial services.
In the meantime, Scriver is looking forward to getting the money he’s owed. He’s trying to move out of CCNV and into his own place, he says, and “a few extra bucks would really help.”
Besides, he adds, the newly higher wages are more appropriate for the job. “People should feel like they’re getting a little more than minimum wage out of the work,” he says. “The tasks we had to perform, picking up other people’s trash—that was worth at least eight or nine.”CP