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Are staff being asked to work on non-essential cleans?
Cleaning staff contracted by WeWork through Jones Lang Lasalle in New York, have been instructed to continue to go into work during the Coronavirus pandemic and must use their paid time off or limited sick leave if they become ill, according a story in the Guardian newspaper.
The publication claims to have had sight of ‘an internal document’ provided to cleaning staff on how to respond to inspectors who visit WeWork office buildings to ensure that essential work is being carried out.
New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, ordered the shutdown of all non-essential businesses in the State on 20th March, but WeWork has allegedly kept most of its offices open, claiming that some of its tenants operate essential businesses - despite the fact that most are now empty and that there are reports of Covid-19 cases at some properties.
The document is reported to say: "If an inspector does not see you actively performing essential work, this may increase the likelihood of being questioned or sent home". It is also said to have provided a list of prompts for workers to follow during an inspection and a list of questions they should be prepared to answer, if asked and instructions to "Provide clear evidence of the essential work you are doing".
A Coronavirus-related question-and-answer sheet was also said to have been provided to the contracted cleaning workers, which stated that they would need to use their accrued paid time off or sick time if they were diagnosed with Covid-19, required to self-quarantine due to exposure, or experienced reduced work hours. Employees not owed paid time off, were promised: "our human resources team is currently looking into options. We will provide more information as soon as possible."
The document allegedly goes on to say that due to a recent change in WeWork's cleaning contract, most workers have just three or four days of paid holiday accrued since the contract began in December 2019, (according to the cleaner, workers receive four hours of paid time off for every 40 hours worked.) It also claims workers' safety will not be in jeopardy if a Coronavirus case is confirmed in a building where a WeWork office is located, claiming workers shouldn't be concerned because the building landlord will ensure all common areas and elevators are clean.
The document is also said to reaffirm that office cleaners are essential workers during shutdown orders, with: "If you can make it to work safely, there is work to be done". It also deferred comments to state unemployment agencies on whether workers who resign would receive unemployment benefits, saying: "Unemployment decisions are made by the state in which the employee lives. These decisions are not made by JLL."
The Guardian says that the cleaning employee contracted by JLL for WeWork offices in New York, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said that workers are just cleaning empty buildings:
"If WeWork closes their offices they default on contracts signed by their members, thus losing tons of money," said the cleaner. “So they are keeping them open so as not to lose out. In turn, JLL are supplying workers to clean already clean, empty buildings. They want us to put our lives at risk in order to maintain the cleaning contracts they have with WeWork."
As WeWork reportedly tries to renegotiate its leases in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, tenants and elected officials in New York are said to have criticised the company for continuing to keep offices open and refusing to suspend rent for tenants.
Staff at its locations have been allowed to work from home, but a memo sent out to employees has tried to entice workers to return to the offices with $100 per day bonuses. Contracted cleaning staff are allegedly not receiving any bonuses or additional compensation for working during the pandemic.
"It's business as usual," said the cleaner. "They're not offering anything."
The Guardian says that WeWork declined to comment on this story, but cited press releases on office closures and coronavirus procedures. "WeWork is home to many members whose companies are essential businesses to our society - whether they be in healthcare, insurance, cleaning product supplies or others. For that reason, all WeWork locations in the US and Canada will remain open and accessible," said the press release.
A spokesperson for JLL told the Guardian in an email: "The management of health and operations at our managed facilities is our top priority. Some of the steps we are taking include communicating with local authorities to be aware of impacts in each market, increasing the sanitation of common areas and surface spaces, and communicating with clients regarding proactively addressing workforces that support them as needed.
"We encourage employees to follow preventive personal hygiene practices recommended by health organisations and to stay home and contact health professionals if they feel symptomatic or have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus." Ed: I’d be interested to receive your thoughts and comments on this story…
26th March 2020