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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Op-ed: Call on GW to support maintenance and engineering workers

Keith J. Graham is a union organizer with the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 99: a local union that represents skilled trades workers in office buildings, hospitals, federal complexes and hotels throughout the entire Washington metropolitan area. They can be found at

On Jan. 18, 2023, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 99 won a National Labor Relations Board election, securing representation of 32 employees in the Engineering and Maintenance Unit employed by the American Building and Maintenance company under contract to GW. In the face of a large and anti-union effort by the employer, we won all but one vote for representation with our union.

Despite this overwhelming mandate for union representation, ABM and GW have made almost no concessions in contract negotiations to improve wages, benefits or meet other worker demands.

Compensation for the engineers is below the area union wage standard and in some cases drastically so. For instance, a maintenance tech at GW makes between $21 and $33 per hour. The estimated average area union wage standard is about $40 per hour. The wages paid to the maintenance and engineering unit are an insult to the hardworking professionals who labor for this University. GW is among the nation’s most expensive universities, but the fact that it allows contract employees to be so poorly compensated speaks volumes about the University administration’s priorities.

Health care is far too expensive. Some engineers have reported paying upward of $500 per month for individual health insurance. Others have reported paying more than $800 per month in health insurance costs for themselves and their families. These extraordinary costs, along with low wages, make it extremely difficult for unit workers to comfortably sustain themselves and their families. Additionally, the 401(k) ABM offers only allows employees to get full matching after a significant initial investment by the employee, but low wages render it almost impossible for most of the engineers to avail themselves of the matching.

There are also a myriad of issues with the working conditions. The union has filed several information requests regarding safety concerns like noxious air quality, potential lead exposure and other Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance questions shared by the facilities staff, to which GW has yet to respond. The engineering plant is in substandard condition from what appears to be decades of deferred maintenance to defray costs — an issue that has plagued the University community for years.

From mold in residence halls hospitalizing students to water leaks, burst pipes and out-of-date, faulty HVAC systems, every time GW allows the maintenance and engineering unit to be undercut, everyone suffers. And as long as GW continues to cut costs on maintenance, allows ABM to exploit engineers and stands idly by while ABM refuses to bargain in good faith, these issues will continue.

The deplorable compensation and safety concerns have had a huge impact on unit morale and resulted in significant turnover. The engineers have been demoralized by overwork, underappreciation and gross undercompensation. As a result, several facilities and maintenance staff have left and not been replaced, leading to understaffing in the bargaining unit. Local 99 just filed federal charges against ABM and GW on April 11 for a series of misconduct including, but not limited to, unilateral changes to unit job titles and wage rates during the bargaining process.

The union is calling on the entire GW community to stand in solidarity with its maintenance and engineering workers. We encourage everyone to reach out to University President Ellen Granberg and urge her to demand ABM take care of their employees and honor the area standards. She can be reached at 202-994-6500. Let Granberg know GW can and must do better.

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