Janitorial work is dirty business, but it doesn't mean the business has to be dirty, which is why activists are accusing a janitorial contractor of strong-arming supporters of the living-wage ordinance passed recently by the San Diego City Council.
The contractor, Eugene Carter, allegedly fired two-year employee Elizabeth Rosita for falling asleep while working at the city-run public restrooms at Sixth Avenue and L Street downtown. But Rosita's supporters say she was fired because she openly advocated for a city living-wage ordinance. In April, the San Diego City Council voted in favor of the ordinance, which requires businesses with city contracts worth more than $25,000 to pay their employees $10 an hour, plus an additional $2 an hour if health insurance is not provided.
Rosita spoke to the media and city officials about the need for a living wage in San Diego. Shortly after the ordinance passed, Rosita said her cleaning shifts were cut until she was fired by Carter in May.
She believes her termination was a result of speaking out. "I feel that I was fired because of my support for the living wage," she said recently at a press conference. "I needed to speak up, not just for me and my family, but for my co-workers who were afraid of being retaliated against."
Carter claims Rosita was napping at work and that he had every right to fire her. Rosita denies that allegation.
"I've never seen anything like this since I emigrated from Arkansas," Carter said of the backlash. "So many people putting pressure on you to go one way with a decision when you can legally go another."
Last July, Carter, who provided janitorial services for the city under the name Eugene Carter Enterprises, was dropped as a contractor after he failed to secure insurance bonds required of all city contractors, said Tina Yoke, a procurement specialist with the city.
Carter changed the name of his company to T and T Janitorial and purchased the required bonds, said Yoke. Right now he holds more than $250,000 in janitorial service contracts.
Rosita has filed an official grievance with the help of the Employee Rights Center (ERC). Peter Zschiesche, ERC's director, said they're considering further legal action if Rosita doesn't get her job back.
"State laws are designed to protect Elizabeth and all California workers, even if they are not covered by a union," he said. "All we want is for Elizabeth to be reinstated with all her back pay and no adverse action on her record. We're not suing. We're not calling for the employer to leave San Diego. We're asking for fairness."
Last week Carter provided the city with a 20-page explanation for Rosita's termination. Deputy City Attorney Tim Miller said he couldn't release the document pending an investigation of Rosita's dismissal, citing an exemption in the state Public Records Act.