Workers who claim they were fired by the Episcopal Church's oldest seminary after more than two decades of service have taken their protest to the streets — erecting a giant protest rat in front of the building.
The five maintenance workers say they lost their jobs at the General Theological Seminary late last month. The workers, who are all members of the Service Employees Union 32BJ, had been with the seminary for decades, but said they were given letters on Thursday, July 27 notifying them that their jobs would end on Tuesday, July 31....
Maia Davis, a spokeswoman for 32BJ, said the union has lawyers looking into whether the seminary violated a city law giving building service workers 90 days of protection against layoffs if a building changes contractors. The men were officially employed by Aramark, a maintenance contracting company for schools and universities.
The workers had originally been employed directly by the seminary until Aramark was brought on in 2009, Davis added. The seminary agreed that any new contractors would continue to employ the same workers with the same wages and benefits.
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The President of General Theological Seminary, the Rev. Lang Lowrey consented to an interview with The Lead.
According to Lowrey General Seminary had in the past decided to outsource building maintenance to Aramark. GTS notified Aramark that due to the sale of most of the buildings GTS would be terminating the contract. Aramark was notified months ago of this pending change and has as yet, to Lowrey's knowledge, not placed the workers in other open positions of the company in the New York area.
GTS had no agreement in the contract with Aramark "that any new contractors would continue to employ the same workers with the same wages and benefits." According to what Lowrey was told, "one reason for the outsourcing ( at that time) was to provide those employees which Aramark hired with a potential career path greater than GTS , given that Aramark is a big maintenance company with much opportunity. This is one reason why GTS is so disappointed that the Aramark ex- employees have not been transfered to other Aramark locations."
Lowrey and GTS supports the protest and has been advocating for the former employees of Aramark who worked at GTS, asking Aramark why they have not been placed elsewhere and praying for the workers daily. The President of GTS has contacted Aramark about this issue almost weekly but there has been no reply.
President Lowrey took over the leadership of GTS in the midst of a severe economic crisis at the seminary when it appeared that the school might not survive. His charge has been to save the school. Selling buildings has resulted in a much smaller need for employees. Work is done on an as needed basis by part-time non-union workers. Lowrey states, "The sale of buildings is at the root of the termination of Aramark and we are disappointed that they have not continued the employment of their employees."
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