FirstService caretaker says he and wife were fired for union activity, wage theft lawsuit

Kevin Borowske and his wife were recently fired from FirstService Residential after a past organizing workers for fair pay and a union.

He led a class action lawsuit on behalf of Minnesota janitors at FirstService — the largest real estate management company in North America — for wage theft, winning a $225,000 (before attorney’s fees) settlement for 100 workers last year.

He then became one of the leaders of the union campaign of janitors and receptionists of condominiums managed by the company. FirstService has not recognized the union and has refused to meet with union leaders.

So he wasn’t entirely surprised when FirstService fired him and his wife Larisa last month, although Borowske says they were good employees.

They had never been disciplined in their eight years as janitors at the Center Village condo building in downtown Minneapolis. One year, Borowske was even recognized as an outstanding employee at the annual company event.

“Because I’m the face of the union. It’s their retaliation against me and my wife. It has to be easy. That’s the only thing that makes sense,” Borowske said.

SEIU Local 26, the union representing FirstService janitors and clerks, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private sector unions. The union claims the termination is illegal retaliation for organizing protected workers.

Emails and a call to FirstService Residential went unanswered.

In addition to losing their jobs, Borowske and his wife will have to move out of their Center Village apartment at the end of the month.

Borowske says they haven’t been able to find a new apartment because they aren’t currently employed, and they haven’t been able to find new jobs because of a non-compete clause in their contracts with FirstService.

Finding a similar job would be difficult even without a non-compete clause, as FirstService has contracts with most of the condominium communities in the Twin Cities. But the contract guarantees that Borowske cannot get similar work for the next year.

The employment contract that Borowske and other FirstService caretakers signed stipulates that they will not be allowed to work for “a management company serving condominium associations, homeowners’ associations, or co-ops … in the Twin Cities metro area” for a year after they leave the company.

Borowske says people reached out to offer him work, but he turned it down.

“I’m afraid to take it because FirstService can sue me,” Borowske said.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a new rule prohibiting employers from forcing workers to sign non-compete agreements, which the agency describes as “a widespread and often exploitative practice that suppresses wages, hampers innovation and prevents entrepreneurs from launching new businesses.” to found”.

According to the FTC, about one in five American workers is bound by a non-compete clause that costs workers more than $250 billion a year because competition is reduced.

Democrats in the state legislature have also introduced a bill (HF295/SF405) prohibiting non-competition clauses.

Borowske and his wife took a job as janitors at FirstService in 2014, earning about $8 an hour maintaining public areas of the downtown high-rise building, including vacuuming hallways, checking chlorine levels in the pool and hot tub, and 24-hour response to residents’ concerns.

Their wages, along with the Minneapolis Minimum Wage Ordinance, have risen to more than $15 an hour plus free rent of their apartment, including utilities.

However, FirstService didn’t pay all the overtime wages that Borowske earned for years.

Borowske filed his class action lawsuit against FirstService in federal court in July 2020, alleging that the company failed to pay him all overtime wages due to him. The company said it would pay him an hour and a half after 30 hours, but only paid him a higher rate for working hours in excess of 40 hours a week, according to Borowske’s complaint.

The company also failed to include the value of its other compensation — rent, utilities, cell phone, etc. — in the overtime rate calculation required by law.

Borowske said he and his wife received $15,000 in two years of unpaid wages through the settlement, which was approved by a judge in January 2022.

In June 2022, FirstService condominium workers in the twin cities went public with their efforts to organize at SEIU Local 26. Borowske has been active in this campaign, taking part in a two-day strike last October to force the company to negotiate a process so workers can hold union elections free from interference or harassment.

This week, the NLRB ruled that a complaint filed by SEIU Local 26 that a Center Village manager had asked workers to sign a form stating that they would not discuss working conditions with each other was valid. The NLRB will next decide whether to settle the complaint with FirstService or to file a lawsuit.

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