The Durham Public Schools system will reimburse 130 custodial workers for nearly $200,000 in back wages after the company they worked for failed to pay them. They were not paid from Oct. 16 to Nov. 5 after their contractor, Integrity Facilities Management, declared bankruptcy.
The Durham school board unanimously passed the reimbursement proposal during a special meeting Monday afternoon.
Under a convoluted employment model, Durham Public Schools has been contracting custodial workers from Durham's SSC Service Solutions, which, in turn, subcontracted from Integrity Facilities Management. Though Integrity—a maintenance service company based in Durham—went belly-up last June, custodial workers didn't learn that their missing paychecks were a result of the company's bankruptcy until Nov. 20.
Neither the attorney for Integrity Facilities Management, Florence A. Bowens, nor company president, Michael Sears, would comment for this story.
- Photo by Emma Loewe
In June, Integrity filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows companies to restructure, and work toward paying their debts. According to federal bankruptcy documents, the company's debts totaled more than $642,000. That included $237,828 to the Internal Revenue Service and another $57,000 in other taxes.
Integrity was able to drastically cut expenses from Oct. 14 to Nov. 14, due in large part to a $97,864 drop in payroll payments, according to the documents.
Even so, in December the company filed for Chapter 7, a more dire form of bankruptcy that requires a company to sell its assets in order to pay off creditors. Integrity most recently listed $204,689 worth of assets—$150,000 of which is janitorial equipment. In the coming weeks, creditors will attend bankruptcy court in the hopes of being paid from the proceeds of the sale of those assets.
Last Friday morning, custodial workers and their families gathered outside the Durham Public Schools Administrative Building to protest the wage issue. "Some lost their apartments, their homes—some lost their cars through this hardship," Denise Wiggins, a custodial supervisor at Hillside New Tech High School, said at the beginning of the gathering. "People may say it's only a paycheck but that paycheck was accountable to us."
Friday's grievances speak to a larger issue that exists outside the hallways of Durham schools. The topic of wage theft is not a new one in North Carolina, a state where employers have withheld around $33 million from workers over the last five years, according to a study by the N.C. Justice Center. Low-wage workers are far more likely to fall victim to such theft.
Signs from Friday's protests displayed messages that ranged from "Integrity, Show Some Integrity" to "DPS, Clean This Up." This slew of refrains speaks volumes to the inherent danger of outsourcing labor: it blurs the lines of accountability in the event of failure.
Durham's school system has been contracting their janitorial work for several years and, according to a DPS representative, will continue to do so.
DPS hopes to pay workers in full by the month's end.