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ASU janitors strike for greater safety measures against Olympus Building Services

Olympus employees protest in Taylor Mall on the Downtown Phoenix campus on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. The employees were protesting unfair working conditions at Olympus, a company ASU contracts for janitorial services in buildings across campus.
Olympus employees protest in Taylor Mall on the Downtown Phoenix campus on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. The employees were protesting unfair working conditions at Olympus, a company ASU contracts for janitorial services in buildings across campus.

Dozens of protesters marched in Tempe and Downtown Phoenix Thursday carrying signs that said "Olympus is a Bully," while chanting in English and Spanish.

Workers of Olympus Building Services went on a one-day strike against unsafe working conditions that have been overlooked by the janitorial company on the University's downtown Phoenix and Tempe campuses. 

Several groups supported the protest, including Central Arizonans For A Sustainable Economy, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, minority activist organization Living United in Change for Arizona and State Representative Juan Mendez. 

Martin Hernandez, UFCW's director of organizing, said the workers feel unsafe while commuting on the job.

“One of the issues that they have, and the reason they came today was no … transportation," he said. "Many have to park and walk, because they have to park their cars far away. This is an unsafe condition in the summertime, unsafe condition in the wintertime and (is) especially unsafe at night."

Hernandez also said the tensions between the company and the workers got to this point because the company retaliated against some workers' attempts to mediate better working conditions on Aug.11.

“A group of workers went to the company’s main office to talk about working issues, and the company ended up getting the police called on them (for trespassing)" he said. "That night, and the next day, everyone who participated in that protest got terminated.”

To combat these acts of retaliation by the company, TFCW decided to help the workers file a lawsuit, Hernandez said.

“We are helping the workers file a lawsuit with the national labor relations board," he said. "A few days later, all of the workers got a call from the company asking them to come back to work.” 

The union has a site dedicated to the ASU-affiliated workers' effort. On the site, stories of the workers' personal obstacles within the company and their termination are collected. 

However, even though the workers are back on the job, Hernandez said he doesn’t think their problems are solved.

“We are hoping that the company really listens to the workers' concerns," he said. "It’s a big issue, and it’s a safety issue.”

According to an emailed statement from ASU, the University hopes the workers on strike will be able to address their concerns with the janitorial company.

"We appreciate and value the service provided by Olympus employees, and ASU abides by all state and federal workplace requirements," the statement read. 

Andrew Hipple, the CEO of Olympus Building Services, wrote in an email that he has already apologized to the University for the situation.

"An Olympus manager terminated 10 employees for their behavior at our regional office during a rally," he wrote. "(This) person made a bad decision and was reprimanded. I as CEO immediately reinstated all employees. I sent a personal letter to all Arizona employees apologizing for the termination."

Hipple also said he was once a janitor, and that he understands janitorial work can be difficult because workers do not get a lot of respect.

"That is why it is important to me and Olympus that we take care of our employees and show them respect," he wrote. "So I want to reiterate that the employee have the right to organize and Olympus will not interfere in that process."

Business sophomore Mia Wong was among the many onlookers that gathered to watch the protest. She said she supports the unionization effort.

“I think it’s really important to unionize, especially when they weren’t asking for anything crazy," she said.

State Rep. Juan Mendez attended the event, demanding justice for the workers in both English and Spanish while stressing the importance of having unions. He reminisced on his own time as a janitor.

“It’s a crazy job," he said. "I used to be a janitor while I was in college. It’s crazy having to go up and down all these flights (of stairs), and having to carry all of these materials.”

Mendez said there are many different ways to protest the issue if the company doesn’t respond.

He also said students depend upon the janitorial system to ensure that their facilities are usable from day to day. 

"Their educational career depends on janitorial systems just as much as teachers, or the library," he said. "We cannot stand for this as students, as graduates, as workers in this community. We are only successful if everyone else is successful."

The final protest on the Tempe Campus ended in front of the Fulton Building, with members of each organization praising those who went on strike, and compelling them to continue to fight.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include statements from both ASU and Olympus Building Services.

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