Protesters in fluorescent yellow vests descended on a WeWork office in central London on Wednesday, complaining about the alleged unfair sacking of cleaners at its co-working spaces.
About a dozen demonstrators armed with horns, sirens, and speakers blaring salsa music rallied at the WeWork office near Bank station at 10am.
The cacophony of noise stopped many passers-by in their tracks, while WeWork members filing in and out of the building appeared bemused by the scene.
The protesters claimed WeWork “colluded” with its cleaning contractor CCM Facilities over what it sees as the unfair sacking of several workers earlier this year.
Yahoo Finance UK has seen a dismissal letter reportedly sent by CCM to one employee, which linked the sacking to WeWork.
WeWork has declined to comment and the cleaning firm denies any wrongdoing, saying it followed proper process.
It comes with WeWork already in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Earlier this week the fast-growing office rental company delayed its much-hyped initial public offering (IPO) after a lukewarm reaction from investors.
‘Nobody appreciates how much effort we put into keeping WeWork’s good name’
One of the protesters on Wednesday was Julian Ortiz, 38. He said he was sacked as a cleaner for WeWork and told Yahoo Finance UK he wanted his job back. He said WeWork was a “really good company” but underestimated the importance of staff like him.
“Nobody appreciates how much effort we put into keeping [WeWork’s] good name,” he said.
“We provide the best customer service to keep [their offices] in the best way so they are happy.”
Ortiz claimed he was unfairly sacked by contractor CCM Facilities after a dispute over his use of a WeWork projector. He said his dismissal left him unable to pay rent and reliant on family for financial support.
CCM said an employee was caught on CCTV removing a projector. Ortiz said he had borrowed it with the permission of a security officer.
Ortiz admitted it was a mistake but said it was “not theft,” adding: “The way they have been with me is really unfair.”
‘We know if we are persistent, we will win’
Alberto Durango, general secretary of the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU), said: “WeWork are supposed to be an ethical company. If they are, they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. It’s completely outrageous.
“The message to WeWork is: reinstate the workers or we will keep protesting. We know if we are persistent, we will win.”
The union claims five workers lost their jobs earlier this year, but CCW said it was only aware of four cases.
Bruce Coker, an organiser at CAIWU, added: “Those that were sacked were very angry, but it created a general sense of distrust and fear. People wondered who would be next.
“They are often migrant workers, so often don’t know their rights and a lack of language skills makes them vulnerable.”
Ortiz said: “There’s been lots of solidarity as people start to notice things aren’t right.”
Two passers-by called the noisy protest “ridiculous.” Another WeWork member leaving the building said it did not bother him.
“Freedom of speech, they can do what they want,” said the man, who declined to be named. “I don’t know all the ins and outs, but if they have something to speak about, that’s up to them.”
Dismissals ‘fully investigated’
Asked about the dismissals at the heart of the dispute, a CCM spokesperson said before the protest that the cleaning company had “fully investigated the allegations made and reached definitive conclusions based on fact.”
The spokesperson added that the company cared about its employees and was “not a faceless multinational,” paying workers at least the London living wage and bonuses for good work.
Two individuals had been given the chance to appeal but lost, and two others were offered but declined alternative work.
CAIWU’s Durango claimed WeWork was partly to blame for the dismissals. The office rental company allegedly requested certain workers no longer attend their sites as a result of various allegations.
A dismissal letter sent by CCM and seen by Yahoo Finance UK says staff at one WeWork office made clear they “disapproved” of a worker’s continued employment for reasons that are not specified.
CCM said in the letter it was “necessary from a business standpoint” to offer them another job on a different site, but confirmed the worker’s termination because they apparently refused to cooperate.
A WeWork spokeswoman said the company was in a “quiet period” linked to its planned IPO, and declined to comment.
More than 500 CCM cleaners work at dozens of WeWork locations across London.