Two school custodians who said they were fired for trying to recruit members for a new labor organization for janitors, maids and other low-paid service workers were promised similar jobs with the city yesterday by Baltimore's Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Virginia Johnson and Valerie Bell said they were fired by Broadway Services Inc., a city contractor, after they tried to get co-workers to join the Solidarity Sponsoring Committee, an association of service workers formed in May to improve pay, benefits and working conditions.
Mayor Schmoke said the charges will be investigated and, if they are true, he will follow through on a vow he made June 25 at Union Baptist Church that the city won't do business with any company that intimidates workers trying to organize.
About 75 people participated in a rally for the two women yesterday sponsored by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD). The organization and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees got together in May to form the SSC.
For three years, Broadway Services has provided custodians at some city schools. The city Board of Estimates has received a bid from the company to provide 200 custodians at 15 schools for this academic year.
A Broadway Services spokeswoman, Marcy Hallock, said the company was trying to determine why the two women thought they had been fired by their supervisor. She said Mrs. Johnson simply had been reprimanded and Mrs. Bell was awaiting reassignment.
"Broadway Services welcomes an investigation of our labopractices, because there are no labor problems," Ms. Hallock said. "There have been absolutely no terminations for union activity."
Mrs. Johnson, a Broadway Services employee for five years, said she had been talking to co-workers and passing out fliers about the SSC during her lunch breaks at Southern High School. She said her supervisor accused her of "gossiping" on the job and said that was grounds for her Aug. 24 dismissal.
"I feel like I've been treated unjustly. My civil rights have been violated," said Mrs. Johnson.
Mrs. Bell, a BSI employee for three years, said she also had been trying to recruit for the SSC at Southern High. When she returned to work in July after being granted a 10-day leave of absence, she was told someone else had her job. But former co-workers told her no one was ever hired to take her place.
"If these allegations are correct, Broadway Services will not contract with the city," Mr. Schmoke said at yesterday's Board of Estimates meeting. "Even if you call it 'gossip,' [workers] have an absolute right to organize themselves."
The board, which is considering Broadway Service's latest bid, voted to defer action on the contract until an independent hearing officer can investigate the allegations.
City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said it could take the hearing officer several weeks to make a recommendation.