Northwest Workers Justice Project and Radford & Keebaugh, LLC filed a complaint against National Maintenance Contractors, LLC, NMC Franchising, LLC (collectively, “NMC”) and Marsden Services, LLC (“Marsden”), on behalf of thirty-four janitorial workers in Oregon and Washington. These janitorial workers allege that NMC deliberately misclassified them to avoid its employer responsibilities, including having to pay them the federal or state minimum wage.
In their complaint, these NMC janitors allege that they were promised the “American dream.” They paid hefty initial franchise fees to work for NMC as “business owners” and were forced to sign lengthy franchise agreements, comprised of over 100 pages, entirely in English. These janitors, who are immigrants and spoke very little English, claim to be aware of the one-sided terms that heavily favored NMC before signing. Unable to comprehend the terms of agreements, they state that they relied on statements made by NMC about the terms.
As alleged in the complaint, once the plaintiffs in the lawsuit became “franchisees,” a very abusive employment relationship began. Unlike people in business for themselves, the janitors state instances when NMC forced them to take unprofitable accounts and often threatened to terminate their franchise agreement if they refused to abide by the work assigned. Making claims of trafficking, the janitors say that these threats kept the janitors in involuntary servitude and debt bondage, forced to work for little to no income.
By treating plaintiffs as franchisees, the suit exposes how NMC reaped all the benefits of having employees while not having to assume the responsibilities as their employer. For example, the janitors were forced to cover the costs of the commercial supplies and equipment that they needed to perform their jobs. They were also required to cover the cost of business insurance and enroll in workers’ compensation. Consequently, the plaintiffs found themselves earning far below federal, state, and local minimum wages.
This case demonstrates the insidious practice of selling janitorial franchises to low-wage employees, a particularly egregious type of misclassification.