Durham considers covering for contractor who failed to pay custodians
Posted January 8, 2015
Updated January 9, 2015
Durham, N.C. — Durham school board members are considering a proposal by Superintendent Bert L’Homme to pay $200,000 owed in back pay to sub-contracted custodial workers whose actual employer filed for bankruptcy.
Durham paid for a contractor for the work, but the money never trickled down to employees after that contractor went out of business.
The workers were not paid for two weeks in late October and early November, L’Homme said.
He proposed that the school district pay the custodians the money that Integrity Custodial Services owes them, then stand in for them in bankruptcy court to recoup as much of that money as possible from the company.
“These are services for which we have already paid, and it was Integrity’s duty to compensate its employees,” L'Homme said. “These men and women are part of our school families. I think we can help them in the short term and stand on their behalf during the long bankruptcy court proceedings.”
“Although these people are not employees of Durham Public Schools, they are part of our school families,” he said during a board committee meeting Thursday. “They work closely with our principals, teachers and staff. In many cases they have positive, even mentoring relationships with our students.”
Board members will vote on L’Homme’s proposal during their Jan. 22 regular board meeting.
Integrity Facilities Management, Inc., a sub-contractor for SSC Service Solutions, employed more than 140 custodial workers to clean 16 DPS facilities, including Jordan High School, Hillside High School and Hope Valley Elementary. Integrity filed for bankruptcy in June, but workers said they learned about it after they noticed payroll discrepancies in October. On Nov. 20, the workers learned they would not be paid for work done between Oct. 16 and Nov. 5, and that they would be laid off.
“We work hard and are professional in our work,” Denise Wiggins, a custodial worker at Hillside New Tech High School for four years, said in a statement. “We keep these schools safe and clean for the children of Durham and have won multiple awards. We ask Superintendent Dr. L’Homme, ‘What did you have on your dinner table this Thanksgiving?’ Because we were sent home with nothing. No paycheck to feed our family or pay our bills. DPS benefited from our labor. They should step up and make this right.”
Most of the workers were hired by a new company but say their benefits and hours have been cut.
“If Integrity can’t pay us, we will keep fighting. This is just the beginning,” Fletcher Norwood, a custodial worker at Pearsontown Magnet Elementary School, said in a statement. “We need to be respected as professionals and Durham Public Schools has received the benefit of our work. Where is the accountability?”
A message left at Integrity’s Durham office was not immediately returned.
The workers planned to protest outside Durham Public Schools' administrative offices Friday morning.