Facebook’s facilities management firm has demanded the removal of a union activist leading a campaign against “impossible workloads” imposed on exhausted cleaners at the US tech giant’s London offices.
Emails seen by the Observer show JLL @ Facebook, which manages the social media firm’s London sites, asked Churchill Group, which employs the cleaners, to remove the workers’ elected union rep, Guillermo Camacho, from Facebook’s offices after he helped organise protests against a doubling of cleaning duties in July.
“The number of floors we have to clean has gone up from five to 12 [at Facebook’s offices on Brock Street]. But they haven’t brought in more staff. It’s impossible – I was having to come before my shift and leave late to get it done,” said Camacho. “It’s making us all really stressed and sick. That’s why we had to protest.”
One cleaner claims she suffered internal bleeding, after she was timed cleaning the Brock Street offices by a manager in June. Another cleaner says she has to take painkillers to work after developing excruciating back pain.
Miriam Palencia, 42, who has cleaned Facebook’s Brock Street offices for more three years, said: “A manager threatened me with a sanction if I didn’t clean one-and-a-half floors. He timed how long I took. It was hell. I had a haemorrhage on one of my shifts because of the stress.”
The building’s 22 to 24 cleaners, who earn £10.85 an hour and are represented by the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU), claim they were ordered to clean a washroom, with five toilet cubicles and a shower, in one minute and 30 seconds.
Camacho, 39, has a seven-year unblemished disciplinary record in the building. Yet the email from JLL @ Facebook requests that “Camacho… be removed from the [Facebook] account” for an alleged “lack of proactiveness in managing the team and maintaining a high cleaning standard”. It was sent on the same day he led protests outside the offices in July.
Churchill Group said it couldn’t comment on individual cases but insisted “any employee relations matters are unrelated to any protest activity or union involvement”. The company said the additional floor space had been added to the account but it had not resulted in increased workload because the cleaners’ tasks had been realigned. “Each task has been timed and undertaken by our own management to ensure they are realistic and achievable; this has been backed up by time-and-motion reviews specifically designed to each site,” said a spokesperson.
Alberto Durango, the union’s general secretary, called on Facebook to take responsibility for the plight of the cleaners in its offices. “It is disgusting that low-paid cleaners are being worked to the point of exhaustion in the building of a fabulously wealthy firm that is making billions of dollars in profit every year,” he said. “Facebook cannot turn a blind eye while its contractors are trying to break the union and intimidate cleaners by forcing out their rep.”
The union raised the cleaners’ concerns with Facebook, which has seen its profits double to $10.39bn, in July and August. But email exchanges seen by the Observer show Facebook’s managers repeatedly referring the union back to Churchill, claiming “we are not the correct organisation to correspond”.
Camacho said: “We worked throughout the pandemic. We kept Facebook’s offices open. But now Facebook is trying to wash their hands of us and say we are nothing to do with them. Facebook is the boss of these companies – it can tell them what to do.”
This week Camacho, who is currently suspended after the removal request, faces a crunch meeting. Minutes from his last meeting with Churchill reveal he will be dismissed if another role cannot be found for him “specifically due to a third-party removal request”.
“I have two young children and a wife to support – as well as my extended family in Bolivia. My kids keep asking me why I’m not at work. I don’t know what to say. I’m worried about losing my job,” he said. “It makes me feel depressed. I won’t be able to pay the rent.”
Facebook said the wellbeing of anyone working in its offices was of the utmost importance and it had ensured all of its contract workers continued to be paid throughout the pandemic. “As a Facebook supplier, JLL must adhere to our strict vendor standards, including ensuring that anyone contracted is paid the London living wage as minimum,” said a Facebook spokesperson.
JLL said: “We pride ourselves on our reputation for integrity and ethics and we hold all our vendors to the same standard in our vendor code of conduct. The health and safety of our people, including those employed by our vendors, is of utmost importance.”
A spokesperson said Churchill Group put employee wellbeing above anything else. It added it had not seen any extended sickness on the contract. “We will not comment on the specifics of individual cases but we are confident with the governance of our HR processes and state that we follow legislation and operate with transparency and integrity throughout the management of every case.”