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Janitors Vs. JPMorgan

The weather's hot in Los Angeles, but the economy's cold. Jobs are disappearing like wrinkles on Beverly Hills housewives.

Century Plaza Towers
Source: centuryplark.net
Century Plaza Towers

So when one building in expensive Century City laid off 19 janitors, it ignited a protest bringing one of the nation's most powerful unions against one of the nation's most powerful investment banks.

The Century Plaza Towers building, purportedly owned by JPMorgan Chase , is the site this week of a three-day protest and hunger fast by janitors and supporters from the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU. Two weeks ago, the contractor hired by the building to handle janitorial work laid off 19 of the 76-person workforce, according to the union. "We really weren't given a reason," says SEIU spokesman Jacob Hay. He says the union recognizes the need by some facilities to cut back in tough economic times, but the SEIU is taking aim at theseparticular layoffs because the building is owned by Chase. The union claims the Wall Street giant received a $95 billion taxpayer bailout, only to "turn around and allow the layoffs of the least paid employees at one of the most expensive buildings in the city," says Hay. "Enough is enough."

Actually, under TARP, JPMorgan received $25 billion, which it paid back with interest. I've asked the union to let me know where it got the $95 billion figure, but you get the idea. It's a lot of money. Taxpayers' money.

Nineteen layoffs in the scheme of things seems small potatoes, but Chase makes a popular target. The SEIU says it wants to use this incident to send a message "industrywide" to others thinking of taking advantage of the (union represented) little guy. "This is bigger than JPMorgan Chase, it's bigger than the 19 janitors who sparked this fight," says David Huerta, VP of one SEIU local. "This is what is wrong with the economy...a company thinks nothing of eliminating jobs to save pennies while doling out $9 billion in bonuses."

The remaining 57 janitors at the facility walked off the job in protest two weeks ago--an incident the SEIU says was not a strike. Still, they claim the remaining janitors "were suspended and are still out of work."

So I'm not sure who's cleaning the building.

Chase declined to comment for this story. Meantime, while a story on Buildings.com says Chase is, in fact, the owner of the building at 2000 Avenue of the Stars. I've called building management to confirm that.

If Chase is the owner, is this the bank's fault?

The union's Jacob Hay admits the contractor, ABM, actually laid off the janitors, not JPMorgan Chase. When I asked if the union had spoken to anyone at Chase before launching the protest, he replied, "I don't know if we've had direct talks." He does say talks with ABM continue in hopes of getting everyone their jobs back. But is the SEIU targeting Chase in order to get more attention? "That's putting the cart before the horse," Hay says. Chase owns the building, he adds, therefore the bucks stop with Jamie Dimon.

As to where it got the $95 billion bailout figure, the SEIU says it includes nearly $70 billion in federal guarantees, and a line of credit extended to Chase when it took over Bear Stearns.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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