BUCKTOWN — Cleaning workers at Bucktown’s Midtown Athletic Club left their shifts Saturday morning to protest the gym laying off staff after workers spoke out about their concerns.
Thirty-three staff members were notified they’ll be let go May 1 from the Midtown Athletic Club at 2444 N. Elston Ave., and their positions will be filled by an outside company, according to a news release from Arise Chicago, which helps workers organize.
During this weekend’s work stoppage, employees said they think the company is retaliating against them for speaking out about the ways their safety has been jeopardized at work.
The workers have demanded the company allow them to keep their jobs and end retaliation. They ask that the company respond to their demands by April 7.
“We are not here to cause problems. We just want to keep our jobs,” said Nadia Don, who has worked at Midtown Athletic Club for three years.
Midtown Athletic Club did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The workers have filed complaints with the Illinois Department of Labor, Chicago Office of Labor Standards, National Labor Relations Board and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Workers said the Midtown Athletic Club refused to provide them with adequate sick leave and endangered workers by exposing them to unsafe cleaning chemicals without proper protective equipment.
“My colleagues and I have been organizing for six months to improve our working conditions,” Don said. “We wanted to create a safer environment for ourselves and for customers. … We realized we were suffering from employment violations of Chicago and federal laws, like a fair work week, sick days, safety and health issues, and the right to organize.”
Don said workers facing layoffs were told they could apply for jobs at the new company, but they wouldn’t receive any benefits and there was no guarantee they’d be hired.
Some employees walked out Saturday, while others passed out flyers with information about the situation. The flyers urged gym members to support the workers by contacting Midtown Athletic Club’s leadership to say the workers should keep their jobs.
Ralliers chanted, “If you exercise at Midtown, help us exercise our rights.”
Robert Bloch, a Midtown Athletic Club member, said he enjoys working out and playing tennis at the club’s “beautiful facilities.” He said replacing the cleaning staff with contractors will worsen conditions at the gym.
“We know that the workers for that contractor will be paid less; that’s why they do it,” said Bloch, who is as an attorney. “I’m sure those workers will work hard, but the reality is if they’re paid less, they won’t be able to keep their jobs as long. There will be more turnover. They won’t be working for the benefit of the club; they have to work for another employer. We’ve all seen this before — the quality of the services will go down.”
Bloch said he wants management to treat workers fairly and allow them to keep their jobs.
“I’m upset because the club will not treat its own employees well and show them the respect and the care that they show to their members,” Bloch said. “Just because the housekeepers here stood up for their rights, stood up for a safe working environment, Midtown responded by getting rid of everyone.”
“I ask Midtown, why not show the same care and respect to your employees that you show for your members?”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: