(This investigative piece was reported and written over 2009 and 2010 and one of the results was the City of Pomona instituting mandatory use of E-Verify for all job applicants. See attached email memo, obtained through a California Public Records Act Request, from the city’s Director of Human Resources William Johnson to Pomona City Manager Linda Lowry.)
Government’s calculated complicity in driving Americans out of their jobs is exposed in Pomona, California
By Mark Cromer
Some of the best busts, veteran cops will often tell you, sometimes begin by sheer happenstance; a broken taillight, an unhinged license plate, a careless gesture by a suspect, a slip of the tongue.
At The Watergate back in 1972, it began when an alert security guard discovered the lock of an office door had been taped open.
At Pomona City Hall earlier this fall, it began when the cops found a door wide open.
If Watergate became synonymous with the criminal enterprise that Nixon and his henchmen were running out of the White House, then what Pomona Police officers uncovered at their civic center is a small but glaring example of the low-grade treachery that is now pervasive throughout our government—from the Oval Office to city halls across the country—even as millions of Americans are hungry for work.
Pomona Police officers discovered the open door at City Hall on the morning of September 27, a Sunday, during a routine check. The building’s alarm had not been triggered. Inside the cops found a woman carrying a few cleaning supplies.
The woman, who said she didn’t speak English, told one of the Spanish-speaking officers that her name was “Esminda Giles,” that she was 34-years-old and that she was part of the janitorial staff that cleans City Hall. The woman said that her son was really supposed to be working the janitorial shift, but that he was at a soccer game and so she was covering his shift.
But the cops knew this didn’t look right. In fact, it looked very, very wrong.
“She had no uniform, no employee badge or contractor identification on her. She had no driver’s license, no state identification card, no passport, nothing that would identify her; not even a Matricula Consular card to present us,” said a police source familiar with the incident. “She was asked if she had any of type of identification at home, if she had left some form of ID there. She said ‘no.’ It wasn’t much of a stretch at that point to assess that she was likely an illegal immigrant.”
The woman told police she had been cleaning Pomona City Hall and other city facilities for more than five years. When officers summoned an on-call city facilities employee, he told them he had seen her cleaning City Hall during previous years—but told them he had no idea who she was either.
An electronic swipe-card is needed to gain access to City Hall without triggering the alarm, but the woman told officers that she did not have a swipe-card. “When she was asked how she got into City Hall, she said she didn’t remember,” the police source said.
But one thing police said the woman did have in her possession were the keys to the city’s offices; including the city attorney’s office, the police department’s administrative offices, human resources, the city clerk, planning and the water department; offices that contain confidential information of city employees and residents of Pomona.
“She effectively had the entire run of City Hall to herself and everything in it,” the police source noted. “She had the keys to the kingdom and no one had even half a clue as to who she was.”
Police photographed her, took her thumbprints at the scene, gave the City Hall keys to the facilities employee and sent “Esminda Giles” on her way.
While she may well not have been committing any crime in City Hall that Sunday morning, the system that allowed her to be there—indeed the Pomona city government that effectively made sure she was there— is guilty of jettisoning standards and safeguards that protect American citizens and workers.
And they’ve been doing it for years.
In 2007, Pomona’s contract for the outsourcing of its janitorial services for all city facilities came up for bid again. It’s a job that includes cleaning City Hall and its council chambers, the city library, the Police Department, the City Yard and assorted satellite buildings belonging to the city.
According to city documents, eight “competitive bids” were received from contractors, with the Monrovia- based Haynes Building Services the high bidder at just over $318,000. Skyline Building Services in Torrance bid the work at more than $187,000, while Diamond Contract Services in Burbank offered to take the job for $178,665. Reliable Building Maintenance in Los Angeles bid more than $150,000 to clean Pomona’s facilities.
Then there was the low bid, tendered by United Maintenance Systems, which had the original contract in Pomona dating back to 2001. United’s bid was under $98,000—or more than three times lower than the Haynes bid. It was also nearly $90,000 less than the second highest bidder and more than $50,000 cheaper than the mid-range bid.
Pomona awarded United the contract, again.
“This company has provided janitorial service in Pomona for the last five years and has done a satisfactory job,” a city staff report states. “Public Works staff has determined, due to their qualifications and experience, as well as the fact that they submitted the lowest responsible bid, that they are capable of continuing to perform this service.”
“…as well as the fact they submitted the lowest responsible bid…”
Pomona City Manager Linda Lowry said in an email this week that an investigation has been launched into the incident.
(Click on image below to view Pomona’s Director of HR Bill Johnson’s email to Pomona City Manager Linda Lowry.)
The city should investigate and perhaps indulge a little municipal soul-searching as well, as the incident raises serious questions of whether Pomona is intentionally turning a blind eye to brazen violations of the terms of its own contracts as well as intentionally ignoring whether state and federal labor laws are being followed.
It also raises the question of just how a janitorial firm can offer such a low bid on a large worksite and still turn a profit?
According to city documents, Pomona’s City Hall and other facilities covered under the janitorial contract— but not including the police department—account for nearly 125,000 square feet of floor space that needs to be cleaned Monday through Friday, along with 76 sinks, 97 toilets and eight showers that must be scrubbed.
Daily duties for janitorial staff also include polishing of mirrors and frames, polishing of metal fixtures, disinfection of sinks and commodes, cleaning of water fountains, maintaining of bottle water dispensers, sanitary napkin dispensers emptied and cleaned, stairways and landings swept. And that doesn’t count a separate weekly list of cleaning chores for janitors.
Then there is the Police headquarters and other police facilities, which account for nearly 60,000 square feet of more flooring to be cleaned in a staggered schedule throughout the week, work that includes scrubbing 32 sinks, 44 toilets and seven showers.
That’s a hell of a lot of labor to cover, as well as all the cleaning supplies, which the janitor service must also provide.
Calls to management at United Maintenance Systems went unreturned.
“In today’s competitive business environment, cutting costs is essential,” the company’s website states. “At United Maintenance Systems, we are firmly committed to developing ways to increase efficiency and quality of service, while striving to save you money on your janitorial expenses.”
Angie Zavala, a vice president at Haynes Building Services, which lost its bid for the Pomona contract, said that Haynes hires only citizens or legally documented immigrants and starts their workers at $10 an hour, well above the state’s $8 an hour minimum wage. Zavala said the company pays higher wages to ensure a reliable quality in their labor force and meet the standards that contracting cities expect.
“You get what you pay for,” Zavala said.
Haynes handles the janitorial services for Rancho Cucamonga, a city of comparable size to Pomona, and Zavala said that her firm always maintains bilingual lead supervisors at worksites if their workers at the location are not fluent in English.
In fact, the contract that United Maintenance Systems signed with Pomona requires that “on-site, supervisory personnel of a high professional caliber, including bilingual communication ability if any contract crew member does not have a working knowledge of the English language.”
The contract also states that janitorial services are to be provided during weekdays at City Hall, not on Sunday.
The contract also states that United Maintenance Systems must comply with the city’s building security regulations “…in such a way as to safeguard the city’s personnel, equipment and property.”
Yet on the face of it, when Pomona’s officers discovered “Esminda Giles” roaming City Hall unsupervised, without any identification, unable to speak English and on a day when janitorial workers are not supposed to be in the building, that constitutes a serious failure of the system.
Rob Baker, President of the Pomona Police Officer’s Association, said the incident was likely a disturbing side effect of slashing budgetary costs. “I believe it’s simply a matter of contracting services to the lowest bidder and having no mechanism in place to ensure quality control,” Baker said in an email.
The police association raised the issue with Pomona Police Chief Dave Keetle several days after the incident. “We explained our concerns and asked if confidential information is stored in a secure manner within City Hall,” Baker said. The head of the Pomona’s Human Resources assured Keetle that confidential information is kept in “locked rooms” that janitorial staff cannot access, according to Baker.
Yet another police source familiar with the incident was incredulous at any suggestion confidential information is being protected.
“Who are they trying to kid? She was in there with the keys for offices throughout City Hall,” the police source said. “She could have been anyone, with any agenda whatsoever. Mexican Mafia? An identity thief? Or maybe she was just who she claimed to be: an immigrant mother covering for her son? The point is we don’t know because the city doesn’t check. And that puts us all at risk.”
Baker knows just how deep and real that risk can run.
“The incident on September 27 wasn’t the first ‘episode’ involving contract janitorial services,” Baker said. “In fact, there was an incident a few years ago where a close relative of an outstanding murder suspect had gained access to the Police Department and was performing janitorial duties for a ‘family member.’ This caused grave concern for investigators and prompted an immediate change in service.”
Baker suggested that perhaps the only way to elevate standards and accountability is for Pomona to return to hiring its own janitorial staff as city employees. “The downside is the cost involved,” he said. “Which during this time of national economic crisis is a very real consideration. The question now is: ‘What price is too high for the security of confidential information?’”
Whatever they feel the answer may be, one must wonder whether the City of Pomona will start conducting compliance checks anytime soon on its various contractors to ensure that even basic security protocols are being met and that all wage and labor laws are being enforced.
Or perhaps to cut costs even more, the city can dispatch employees to swing by Home Depot each day and hire the city’s janitorial crew right out of the parking lot, doling the jobs out as daily ‘piece work’ like the old Company Towns of the Great Depression. Pomona can offer a dime for every sink cleaned, a quarter for every toilet scrubbed.
But whatever Lowry and the rest of the management team that runs Pomona does from this point forward, one thing is certain: they can no longer say they weren’t aware of what actual practices are occurring in the city, regardless of what their policies state.
This is important because on the day that a real city employee is attacked by an unidentified person roaming around City Hall; or as soon as city residents begin to have their identities stolen by some ghost-like pseudo janitor working an unauthorized graveyard shift; or as soon as an “Esminda Giles” slips and cracks her head open as she works alone in City Hall—when the lawsuits start to fly—the city can’t say they didn’t know what was going on.
They know damn well what’s going on, because they’re in on it.
On that Sunday morning back in September, a couple of Pomona cops didn’t just come across a well-meaning but unauthorized janitor trying to cover for her soccer-loving son. No, they turned the lights on an insidious bureaucratic betrayal that is now endemic across California and much of the nation. It’s a silent treason that has forced millions of citizens from their jobs and replaced them with the outsourced sweat of exploited illegal immigrants that toil for dimes on the dollar at the expense of unemployed Americans and financially strapped taxpayers.
It is the active and conscious complicity of our elected and appointed governing officials in corrupting the integrity of our system, weakening the security of our communities and abetting the dry-rot that is eating away the very foundation of our nation.