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Lott's disabled cleaners replace union firm at Government Center

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    Machelle Moreno and her daughter Angela, 19, pose for a portrait in the kitchen of their home in West Toledo.

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Machelle Moreno and her daughter Angela, 19, pose for a portrait in the kitchen of their home in West Toledo.

THE BLADE/ZACK CONKLE
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It took Karen Gaillard 16 years of mopping floors and wiping down desks at One Government Center to work her way from $5.55 an hour to $9.65 an hour and to a schedule full enough to pay the bills.

She received no health insurance or pension benefits, but the 52 hours a week, split between morning and evening shifts, sustained Ms. Gaillard and her disabled spouse.

She lost it all within a month.

Two months ago, Ms. Gaillard and 20 other janitorial workers hired through Advanced Cleaning Contractors Inc. of Toledo were told that they no longer had jobs cleaning the 22-story tower that houses Toledo and Lucas County government offices.

Twenty-four developmentally disabled workers from Lott Industries, a nonprofit agency, were taking over their cleaning duties as part of contract reorganization by the state. The new workers' pay is $7.85 an hour.

"It just hurt," the 50-year-old Ms. Gaillard said. "[The state] took jobs away from a lot of hard workers, and I don't think they really knew what they were doing."

Once overseen by the now-defunct Ohio Building Authority, One Government Center and four other state-owned buildings passed to the auspices of the Department of Administrative Services this year as ordered in Gov. John Kasich's budget. Before the switch, janitors were hired through a third-party building manager, which had contracted with Advanced Cleaning for decades.

Under Department of Administrative Services control, the state has decided to arrange for janitorial staffing itself, starting with One Government Center, where Advanced Cleaning's contract expired in June. That means compliance with state procurement rules that give preference to agencies hiring people with disabilities, spokesman Pieter Wykoff said.

"We're just following state law," he insisted.

Mr. Wykoff said the Department of Administrative Services plans the same with buildings it oversees in Cleveland, Akron, and Columbus.

Saving money is not the main reason for the change, Mr. Wykoff said. However, the contract with Lott Industries is $352,560 a year, which is a $75,000 saving from Advanced Cleaning's services.

Lott Industries' workers are nonunion, which infuriated Ms. Gaillard and other former janitors, who belong to the Service Employees International Union.

"We paid a lot of union dues, and then they can come in nonunion. We were told we had to be union to work in the Government Center," she said. "So now it all drops. … How can that happen?"

Erin Kramer, the Indiana and Ohio state director for SEIU Local 1, questioned the rationale for taking jobs averaging $10 an hour away from the previous janitorial staff, many of whom had worked at One Government Center for years.

"If you've been doing that work 30, 25 years, it's shocking to lose that position," she said.

Ms. Kramer also questioned whether the Lott Industries employees were up to the task of cleaning One Government Center. If they are, they should be compensated at market rate, she said, adding that she thinks the state is "taking advantage of folks who don't have an advocate."

But John Joldrichsen, community employment coordinator for Lott Industries, said the developmentally disabled workers perform the job well and have received many compliments. The janitorial contract is a great opportunity for them to gain valuable employment skills.

Eventually, the work could help them find independent employment without the need for Lott Industries supervision, Mr. Joldrichsen said.

"One of our goals is to get as many people as we can out into the community," he said.

Asked about the new contract with One Government Center, Mr. Joldrichsen said Lott Industries simply took advantage of a competitive bidding opportunity and won the bid.

City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei lamented the loss of work for the previous janitorial staff, but said the Lott Industries workers are doing a good job. The city's main concern is that taxpayers' dollars be used efficiently and work be performed according to the contract, she said.

"So far we don't have a complaint," Ms. Sorgenfrei said. "They're doing an excellent job."

But workers such as Machelle Moreno, 45, a former supervisor for Advanced Cleaning, remain furious. Ms. Moreno said she lost her livelihood with the end of the cleaning contract. She'd worked for Advanced Cleaning for 22 years and made $11.20 an hour when she left.

Ms. Moreno now collects $202 a week in unemployment benefits while she looks for work. She said she's struggling to pay bills and support her 19-year-old daughter, who has had to use a wheelchair since childhood.

She said that although she believes disabled people also deserve a chance to work, Lott Industries workers don't need the janitorial job as much as she does because they have access to a variety of government benefits that she doesn't qualify for.

"I feel like I got kicked in the butt," she said. "I'm a healthy person, I can do the job. I've been doing the job for 22 years and now you put me out of a job and give them a job? It's not right."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.

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