Facilities Management white panel van that was located in the parking garage behind the police station on March 26, 2023. The van in the picture is covered in a visible layer of dust and has a flat tire. Words and pictures have been drawn in the dust on the van. One dust tracing, reportedly made be a BSW, changes the logo to Facilities MisManagement.
Facilities Management white panel van that was located in the parking garage behind the police station on March 26, 2023. The van in the picture is covered in a visible layer of dust and has a flat tire. Words and pictures have been drawn in the dust on the van. One dust tracing, reportedly made be a BSW, changes the logo to “Facilities ‘Mis’Management.”
Dan Maurer

NEIU Janitors Fear for Jobs, Police Presence in Union Meeting


Updated 5/23/24: This article has been updated with a statement from Chris Childers, NEIUs Executive Director of Marketing and Communications.

Janitors at NEIU, also known as Building Service Workers (BSWs), told the Independent they fear the university is deliberately creating conditions to justify eliminating their jobs, with the goal of replacing them with a third-party contractor after NEIU laid off five BSWs, including three NEIU students, and eliminated the overnight cleaning shift on April 1, 2024. NEIU’s BSWs are members of the Teamsters Local 700 labor union.

Multiple BSWs, who spoke with the Independent on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, alleged mistreatment by management, including lack of communication and nepotism on the part of Wilfred Rivera, the Superintendent of Facilities Management, whose brother works under his supervision.

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These allegations were raised during a March 26 meeting, held in the NEIU Police station with three armed NEIU police officers in attendance.


Allegations of Miscommunication


In a recording provided to the Independent from the meeting, Abby Murray, NEIU’s Associate Vice President for Human Resources, can be heard speaking to the reason for the lay-offs, saying, “It has absolutely nothing to do with the management or the employees. It had to do with efficiency.”

One of the BSWs responded, “We’re here now, two days before we’re laid off though. We could have addressed this concern the week that I was laid off, but we waited two months to address this.”


Regarding a lack of communication and mistreatment, BSWs said during the meeting that since Rivera had been promoted to Superintendent in July 2023, he only had one meeting with the overnight BSWs. The BSWs described the meeting, saying:


“Instead of coming into the meeting to address issues and concerns, he came in very hostile and argumentative, just stating all the things we did wrong. Also stating that Jonathan [Parrenas] wasn’t a good union steward and should be voted out. This is not how a superintendent should treat his employees.”


Another instance of miscommunication, according to the union, was when BSW staff were not informed for two weeks that their former foreman, Charles La Faire, had quit. Emails were left unanswered regarding work questions, building issues requiring immediate attention and time-off requests. In the meeting on March 26, one BSW said he was unable to confirm his Family Leave.

As a further example of lack of communication, one BSW said, “Instead of just informing me and others Chuck [La Faire] was no longer working with us, he [Wilfred Rivera] approved my vacation and told me to send him my request going forward.”

NEIU management and the union did not agree on who had called the meeting. Murray said, “Management called this meeting.”

 “Management called this meeting?” Jonathan Parrenas, the BSWs union steward, responded, “This meeting was requested by the union, by me.”

Parrenas and other BSWs told the Independent the meeting was supposed to have been a question and answer session. Murray said, at the beginning of the meeting, “I’m here to answer your questions.” However, according to the BSWs, most of their questions went unanswered.


Allegations of Nepotism


NEIU’s policy on “Nepotism and Personal Relationships” (E1.04.1) states, “Employees will avoid creating the appearance of nepotism, as well as other forms of conflict of interest.” This policy, which applies to all NEIU students and employees, defines nepotism as “favoring relatives.”

Regarding the purpose of the policy, NEIU says: 


“This policy furthers Northeastern’s commitment to integrity. By eliminating the potential for individual influence, Northeastern demonstrates honesty, respect and transparency in its words and actions as they pertain to University employment and academic progress.”

Jonathan Parrenas, the union steward for the Teamsters Local 700, said there was already precedent for moving relatives to avoid an appearance of nepotism, as NEIU had previously done so. 

Aaron McLeod, NEIU’s Director of Employee and Labor Relations, can be heard responding, “Duly noted, we will take that under advisement.”


BSWs Fear Replacement


A number of BSWs have spoken to the Independent on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, to say they fear their work is being sabotaged. Since the elimination of the night shift, BSWs said they have been told to work in teams, preventing them from spreading out to cover more ground and making it harder to complete their cleaning tasks. BSWs have also had to close restrooms in the middle of the day, and clean offices while they are in use. 

The current BSW shifts consist of several workers during the day, from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., with two workers in the afternoon from 12 p.m. until 8 p.m., and one floater from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. 

BSWs have alleged that this is intended to slow down work, and foster ill will between the university community and the BSWs in order to justify their elimination and the hiring of a third-party contractor to perform janitorial work at NEIU, therefore saving the university money on pensions and benefits.


Police Presence in Union Meeting, Reporters Told to Leave


Members of the Teamsters Local 700 invited Independent reporters to attend the meeting on March 26. However, before the meeting began, Wilfred Rivera and Abby Murray, told the Independent reporters to leave, including Independent Editor-in-Chief Leslie Lozada. 

The Independent reporters were escorted out of the station by NEIU Police Captain Frank Covello. The captain, and two other officers, remained in the room for the duration of the meeting. According to Parrenas, no meetings had ever been held in the police station before, or with police present.

During union negotiations with the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) on March 2, 2023, an Independent reporter was allowed to remain in the room during negotiations, which took place on the second floor of the Student Union Building. There were no police present at that meeting.

In the recording from the meeting, one of the BSWs can be heard asking, “Why are there armed guards here? Why do you have guards?”

After being asked multiple times by BSWs, Murray said the armed officers were there, “Because we received some pretty aggressive emails.”

Parrenas asked to see the alleged emails, saying, “The union would like a copy of the aggressive emails from the BSWs. Because there’s never been any problem like that from this group.” Murray ignored the request and did not provide copies of the alleged emails.

Parrenas also said, after the Independent reporters had been escorted out, “The Independent is here as an invite by the union, and as an invite by the people over here that they wanted to have them present.”

Murray said, “This is a meeting between the BSWs and management. This is not a public meeting.”

To which another BSW asked, “Then why are the guards here?”

“We brought the press, they brought the cops,” one BSW remarked after the meeting.


Former UPI President’s Reaction


The Independent spoke to Dr. Nancy Matthews, who recently retired as president of the NEIU chapter UPI and Justice Studies professor at NEIU.

“That’s a legitimate fear, I think, and that rarely works well,” Dr. Matthews said in response to a question regarding BSWs’ fears of being replaced. “I think a lot of CPS schools did that years ago, and it wasn’t a good solution.”

Regarding the use of NEIU police officers by NEIU management, Dr. Matthews called it, “A classic case of intimidation.”


Laid-Off Student Speaks Out


The Independent also spoke to Ty Iyorkegh, one of the NEIU students who were laid off. He said he has no intention of coming back to work for Northeastern if he could.

“Northeastern was trauma,” Iyorkegh said, “Just bad management, bad preparation that I don’t want to deal with,”

Iyorkegh also said, in April, that he was struggling to get unemployment and cash out his retirement benefits. He told the Independent that NEIU had not yet reported 2023 wages to the state of Illinois. Another NEIU student who was laid off, who wished to remain anonymous, said that his wages for the second half of 2023 had not been reported.

“The faculty of Northeastern… I want to say majority of the ones that I came in contact with are there to help students succeed,” Iyorkegh said of his experience at Northeastern as a student, “It seems to be upper management and upper Civil Service management, from the BSW side, that are just trash.”

The Independent asked Iyorkegh if he would recommend NEIU to potential students, he said, “It’s yes and no, because I wouldn’t want no one to deal with the crap that Northeastern provides.” He went on, “But also at the same time… I don’t want to deter the one person that can go in that school and make good changes, lasting change, so they can turn that school around.”

“Would I put my son through Northeastern?” Iyorkegh paused for several seconds before saying, “That’s a hard question… If he’s surrounded by the people that I know are good for this school, yes.”

Iyorkegh also spoke more broadly about the culture at NEIU, “No one at Northeastern is giving out the full truth, you know what I mean?” He continued, “They’re not even giving you a half-truth. They give like a quarter truth mixed in with a lot of gossip. And everyone’s doing backwards dealing.”




The Independent reached out to the Human Resources department, Wilfred Rivera, and Chris Childers, NEIUs Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, for comment. 

Commenting on behalf of NEIU, Childers said in a statement to the Independent:


“Northeastern Illinois University is committed to providing a safe, clean learning environment. This will always be a top priority. In response to our institution’s financial challenges, we have had to make several difficult decisions to ensure the long-term sustainability of our operations.

The elimination of the overnight cleaning shift will make the best and most organized use of our limited resources while maintaining the high standards of cleanliness and hygiene on campus. NEIU is committed to ensuring our facilities are well-maintained despite the reduced staff. Adjusting these cleaning schedules and procedures ensures that essential tasks are completed effectively.


NEIU will continue to evaluate all possibilities to serve the needs of our campus community best.”


NEIU’s Human Resources department declined to comment.

Wilfred Rivera did not respond to multiple requests for comment in time for publication.

Abby Murray went on leave on April 8, 2024, for an “undetermined duration” according to a Targeted Announcement sent to NEIU Faculty and Staff.

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