For the past month, Daycon Products, a leading janitorial service with headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Md., has turned a deaf ear to workers who’ve been protesting the company’s uneven pay scale.

“It’s about dignity and respect,” Doug Webber, business agent for Local Teamsters 639, told the AFRO.

“The problem is that their wage structure is all over the board and we’re looking for equal pay for equal work, including a proposed three-year catch up for new hires.”

Daycon is a privately held entity with some $50 million in assets. About 55 employees work for the company in the Southern Maryland and Washington, D.C. areas, and according to Webber, at least 40 are African American.

The union’s contract with Daycon expired Jan. 31, signaling the end of a three-year agreement. Webber said that until last month the two parties had been in negotiations since November 2009.

So far, more than 50 Daycon workers that manufacture and deliver products have been picketing around the clock at the facility on Trade Zone Avenue in Upper Marlboro since going on strike April 30. At other times they’ve carried their protests near the sites of some of their customers, which include a wide range of institutions including the Nationals’ ball park and George Washington University.

Webber, who has been a regular fixture at the picket sites, said the union continued to negotiate even past the contract’s expiration in hopes of a new deal.

But he said Daycon “basically” walked away with what they termed their last offer.

He said, for instance, that workers hired off the streets should be at the top rate of pay by their third year on the job. But he said Daycon – which has been a supporter of the welfare-to-work program in Maryland – “doesn’t see it that way.” He also said that as a result of having to do without pay increases, many workers have terminated their health insurance packages because they can no longer afford them.

“Especially when you have premiums that cost as much as $180 a month,” said Webber. “Daycon is taking advantage of the recession, thinking they shouldn’t have to provide salary increases,” he continued. “Right now, they don’t even have a reasonable mechanism for getting people to the top pay rate. They’ve proposed to hire warehouse workers off the street at $12 an hour, but it would take 30 years for that same worker to catch up to the top rate of pay.”

Roger Newell, a strategic planner with the District-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said Daycon has essentially refused to bargain in good faith with the striking workers.

According to Newell, Georgetown students recently met with school officials because Daycon provides janitorial supplies there. “The university has agreed to contact Daycon and urge them to come back to the table,” said Newell. “If the company refuses to negotiate in good faith with the union, the university has agreed to put on the table cancelling their contract.”

Newell added that other supporters have also met with officials from the Smithsonian Institutes and University of Maryland about following Georgetown’s lead.

“Things are growing in terms of support, with various unions lining up,” said Newell. He said that organizations such as the nurses union have also lent support along with employees in the building trades who are helping to provide food and financial relief for the striking workers.

“If Daycon fails to reconsider, this strike is something that will be sadly happening for a while,” said Newell.

Teamsters 639 President Thomas Ratliff added that earlier this month some of the strikers received letters from Daycon stating that because they’ve remained away from their jobs so long, their positions have been filled and their health insurance terminated.

A Daycon official was contacted for comment but had not responded by press time.