Global cleaning company investigated for improperly paying workers

by: Katie Doptis and Maria Guerrero Updated:


ABM is a global company that specializes in janitorial services, parking and security. It earns $4 billion a year in revenue.

Yet, KIRO 7 discovered multiple investigations into the company for improperly paying workers.

While ABM calls itself a leader in the building maintenance industry, some former employees find faults.

“They take advantage of people they can,” said Dan Donathan. “If they can take advantage of them they do it.”

“I think the company is always trying to do what's going to save a dollar,” said Debi O’Brien.

O'Brien worked for ABM for 12 years.

She sums up ABM’s culture as “very hostile.”

Both O’Brien and her daughter worked in ABM’s parking division.

O’Brien’s daughter took legal action after being terminated while on maternity leave.

O’Brien said after that, her work life drastically changed.

“I started to notice things around the office that seemed like retaliation,” she said.

Including a new job duty she said put her in danger.

“When I had to inspect garages with needles and feces and things like this and being in stairwells where I would walk in on drug sales and sex acts.”

Now she's suing for retaliation, discrimination and unpaid wages -- which ABM has denied.

KIRO 7 obtained court records and found ABM has settled two wage-related class action lawsuits in Washington. One settlement proposal lists a $1 million payout.

State Labor and Industry documents show ABM was warned for failing to follow rules regarding employee breaks.         

And multiple people have filed complaints with the state accusing the company of not paying them for work they performed, including Donathan.

“I went to L&I and turned them in,” he said.

Donathan was an ABM janitor in Yakima. Every evening he cleaned floors at area Safeway stores.

He said when he quit, the company refused to give him his last paycheck.

“I called the Tri-Cities office and that girl told me, ‘we are not going to pay you,’” he said.

Donathan believes ABM's wage violations are widespread but most don't complain.

“This is a poor area, people put up with it because they have to because they need the work.”

He also thinks most ABM workers don't know their rights.

“They're poor people who don't have a lot of education,” Donathan said. “But they're hard workers.”

“We started with seven people and ultimately more and more people came to complain and ultimately the settlement was for 19 individuals,” said Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney Cindy O’Hara.

The EEOC filed suit against ABM for discriminating against Hispanic workers in 2009. And it accused the company of trying to hide evidence in the case.

“Basically, ABM was destroying all the evidence. It was the first one in 30 years of being an attorney that I'd ever seen where they just completely destroyed the records,” she said.

ABM eventually settled and was forced to train workers in California about discrimination.

KIRO 7 contacted ABM’s corporate communications manager, Chas Strong, in Atlanta numerous times by phone and email. We even offered to meet in Atlanta for an interview. He never responded to that request.

Instead, Strong e-mailed a statement hours before our stories aired writing in part, “Given that these are pending legal matters, we cannot discuss the specific circumstances of these cases. In fact, these are claims that are several years old. In any event, the claims are without legal merit.”

Read Strong’s full statement below.

Meanwhile, we shared our findings concerning ABM’s conduct in Washington with EEOC Regional Attorney Bill Tomayo.

Including ABM’s failure to immediately report a rape allegation last year and the pattern of wage complaints, women say ABM supervisors told them not to tell police about rape allegations.

“We're still scratching at the surface of a problem that runs deep and wide in agriculture, in the service industry, in janitorial work,” Tomayo said.

Statement from Chas Strong, Manager, ABM Corporate Communications

ABM takes these issues very seriously.  We constantly work to provide all of our employees a professional and safe work environment free of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation of any kind.  We have strong policies and practices in place, including a policy against harassment in the workplace, harassment training conducted for janitors and forepersons, harassment training for supervisors, harassment posters in the workplace, payroll stuffers with harassment and discrimination information, and others.  Employees are given a variety of ways to report allegations, including a multi-lingual anonymous hotline operated by a third party.  Given that these are pending legal matters, we cannot discuss the specific circumstances of these cases.  In fact, these are claims that are several years old.  In any event, the claims are without legal merit.

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