QUEENS, N.Y. - A giant inflatable rat marks the spot where eight long-time maintenance workers are striking. 

Collectively, these workers have almost 150 years of experience cleaning and operating St. John’s Preparatory School in Astoria, Queens.

But they were let go just before students began the school year.

What You Need To Know

  • Eight maintenance workers at St. John's Preparatory in Astoria were let go just weeks before the school was scheduled to reopen for in-person learning

  • Collectively, the workers have almost 150 years of experience between them

  • According to Local 74, which represents the workers, the school decided to terminate its contract with the staff due to financial concerns

“I was heartbroken, because of course I have a family to take care of,” said Omar Wallace, a former building mechanic at the school.

Wallace worked at St. John's for 30 years.

“I know the in-and-out of this building. I’m the go-to person, actually,” said Wallace.

According to United Service Workers Local 74, the union representing the workers, the school’s Board of Trustees decided to eliminate its contract with the maintenance staff due to financial issues.

The union said standard practice is to offer employment to the workers through the new contractor, but the union is still unsure who the school has hired to replace the maintenance staff. 

None of the original workers have been offered a new contract. 

"I feel really disgusted about having lost my job unjustly,” said Lourdes Delgado, a former maintenance worker. “During these times in a pandemic, there's no work available. I'm not doing anything and I'm frustrated with this whole situation.” 

The workers said they’re also concerned about who is keeping the school clean during the pandemic. 

Maria Christina Pinilla has 34 years of experience cleaning the school. She said it was a mammoth task in the days before coronavirus concerns. 

"Well, you can imagine. I work eight hours and I cover two-and-a-half floors completely. It's a lot of work for just one person, but we sacrifice ourselves for our work,” said Pinilla.

The Diocese of Brooklyn said it was not involved in the decision to dismiss the custodians and referred us to the school.  

The president of St. John’s Prep promised a response on Tuesday, but in a letter to the union representative, the school’s president said, "With all of the COVID areas of concern — we and the board of trustees have been working hard to survive this threatening crisis. We are faced with a pressing need to economize in order for the school’s survival."