Custodial workers say they don't feel safe at work

By Diane Walker - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Three female custodians are at the end of their jobs with no legal rights to fight termination. I consulted Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

"We're the best workers. I can stand by my work, Meredith and Jennifer. We were good," said Karen Womble.

Karen Womble and her daughters worked for 'G.C.A. Services Group' cleaning buildings on VCU campus. Walking is their mode of transportation.

"We would walk to and from our destination job site no matter what the weather. They could depend on us," said Karen.

A Sunday through Thursday schedule had the family cleaning the VCU Dance Center at Floyd and Brunswick around 10:30 p.m., then walking across the street to the dance administration building and on to facility management on West Grace around 1 a.m.

"First we heard one shot. I said, 'Jennifer get down on the floor,'" said Meredith Womble. "My mom was mopping the stairwells."

They say they've worried about their safety since that 2009 shooting.

"There were like 7 or 8 bullet casings outside," Meredith said.

So recently, when their boss at G.C.A. Services Group told them about a new assignment, farther off campus they asked questions.

"All the way up to Broad and Lombardy! There's a lot of shooting going on," Karen said.

"Walking by ourselves and people hanging in the allies," Jennifer added. "He said 'well, if you don't take it, I'll bust you down to 6 hours.' I said, 'ok. 6 hours is ok.'"

The women were fired. Their former boss referred me to his boss, G.C.A. Corporate and no one has returned my calls. Legal Aid says the threat of getting mugged or hurt is not a sufficient legal claim to fight termination.

"It falls under the category of employment at will," said Martin Wegbreit with Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. "In Virginia, you can be fired for any reason at all, good reason, a bad reason, a true reason, a false reason, or no reason."

When asked what they were worried about the most, Meredith responded, "Being homeless. I don't want them struggling again with no job."

You cannot be fired based on race, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability or in retaliation for making a safety complaint to a government agency. The Wombles picked up their last paychecks Friday. They have applied for unemployment compensation. We don't know if 'G.C.A.' is contesting. I have reached out to G.C.A. Services Group for comment, but so far, they have not responded.

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