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San Diego County seeks new proposals for janitorial services after allegations of worker abuse by contractor

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to allow requests for new proposals for janitorial services, under a new contracting policy that outlines how workers are to be treated by contract companies.

The vote came after NOVA, the company currently contracted for cleaning at some sites including the County Administration building, was found in violation of state labor law. NOVA had fired some workers who had been trying to organize a union. County investigators declared the firing to be retaliation.

"NOVA may submit a proposal," County Supervisor Nora Vargas said in a written statement, "(but) the procurement will result in the (County Administration Center) being removed from NOVA's existing contract and the services will be governed by a new contract."


Earlier in the day, janitorial workers rallied outside the building. Two weeks earlier, they had agreed to hold off on a strike against NOVA, after Vargas promised to help them.

During that time, the fired workers got their jobs back, with back pay. But Alejandra Valles of SEIU-United Service Workers West, the union the janitors are trying to join, said that is not enough.

"That’s the bare minimum," Valles told the rallying workers. "These workers need a voice and they need a union!"

Also at the protest was Sofia Martinez, one of the reinstated workers. "I want to make sure that what happened to me never happens to any of my fellow janitors," she said.

Martinez and other workers went into the supervisors' chambers before the vote, holding bread and roses to symbolize what they hope to get with a union contract: money for daily bread and for little luxuries, like roses.


During the meeting, Supervisor Jim Desmond noted the county had no say about the workers unionizing, but expressed concern about future costs to the county. His was the sole "no" vote.

“Our contracted janitors are essential to the work that our county does, and they are priority for me," Vargas said in her written statement. "Today’s board action will help make sure that any future contract prioritizes and ensures their safety and well-being. They have sacrificed a lot over the last few years, and we need to ensure they have safe working conditions and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

We reached out to NOVA, but they did not return our calls for comment.