Durham County

Durham public school janitors win $77,000 in back wages

Fired custodians protest outside Durham Public Schools headquarters Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, for wages they were not paid when their employer, a subcontractor, filed for bankruptcy.
Fired custodians protest outside Durham Public Schools headquarters Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, for wages they were not paid when their employer, a subcontractor, filed for bankruptcy.

One hundred and forty-nine school janitors are finally getting paid.

Judge Loretta C. Biggs of the U.S. Middle District Court of North Carolina verbally approved a settlement providing $77,000 in back wages to 149 former employees of Integrity Facilities Management Inc. on Thursday.

Before IFM declared bankruptcy in 2014, the company was a subcontractor for SSC Service Solutions Inc, which provided janitorial services for the Durham Public Schools.

“I was very happy when I got the message,” Liliam Bustillo Cerrato said. “Very happy.”

Cerrato worked as a janitor at Fayetteville Street Elementary School, Rogers-Herr Middle School and Jordan High School between 2005 and 2014.

IFM janitors were cleaning 16 out of 52 DPS schools and four DPS administrative buildings.

The North Carolina Justice Center has represented the former IFM janitors in legal proceedings.

As part of the settlement with DPS, the center filed a complaint in December 2016 for the $77,000 and simultaneously asked that the Middle District of North Carolina Court approve that complaint, said Carol Brooke, an attorney with the center.

The payment covers unpaid overtime, court fees and legal costs, compensation for late payment of wages and underpayment of the required wage rate.

Brooke said a disputed contract required the full-time janitorial workers receive pay in accordance with Durham's living wage.

Cerrato has two daughters. She said not receiving the money she felt she had earned in 2014 made her “triste.”

“Very sad. I even cried a little,” Cerrato said in Spanish as Brooke interpreted. “It meant a lot. I had rent, bills and it was Thanksgiving. I wanted to make Thanksgiving dinner, which I did not have.”

DPS released a statement through spokesman Chip Sudderth.

“Since Integrity went bankrupt in 2014, ensuring those workers who cleaned DPS schools received full payment has been a high priority for the Board,” Sudderth wrote. “At the time of the bankruptcy, the Board worked closely with SSC to ensure Integrity’s final payroll obligations were covered.

“The Justice Center subsequently investigated and uncovered additional concerns about underpayment, and we have worked with SSC and the Justice Center to work out a settlement of those workers’ claims so that they receive the wages they are due.”

Because the Fair Labor Standards Act required court approval of the settlement, Sudderth said, once DPS and the N.C. Justice Center reached an agreement, the center filed a complaint.

Sudderth added DPS and the center worked together through the court approval process. DPS contributed $20,000 to the settlement fund, he said. The rest came from SSC Service Solutions.

DPS still contracts with SSC Service Solutions, and that contract was recently extended through the end of the year.

Suddereth said DPS is reviewing its custodial needs to determine “how best to provide those services” after December.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

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