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SHADYSIDE (KDKA) – Former employees of the Ellis School in Shadyside are upset. They say the school hired a new cleaning company, and that the new contractor is paying employees much less.

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The employees held a protest on Monday after the school terminated seven cleaning crew positions. All of the employees who lost their jobs are African-American.

Alyce Toombs, who lost her job, said, “This is unfair. I understand things happen, but this is totally unfair. And I hope this never happens to anybody else.”

Toombs says she found out she was losing her job via text message.

“It was definitely a gut punch to lose your job,” Toombs said. “And definitely [to] not have anything on the horizon. Right now, I’m unemployed.”

Toombs and the other people who lost their jobs are members of the 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. The union says General Cleaning Inc. is paying the new workers $4 less per hour, and that they do not have a union contract.

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A community activist group called Pittsburgh United is outraged.

“To have a school that is really catering to pretty well-off people decide that they’re going to fire workers in order to lower their wages and benefits is just outrageous, and unacceptable to our community,” says Barney Oursler, the group’s director.

Democratic State Representative Ed Gainey showed his support for the employees by participating in the march.

“We need to take care of families, and I’m not talking about poverty wages,” says Rep. Gainey. “I’m talking about… a living wage that allows us to send our kids to schools such as this.”

The Ellis School posted a statement on their website in response. It reads, in part:

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“This decision was made in keeping with our commitment to the health and safety of the students. This commitmenet, not cost, was the only criteria for the School’s decision … Outside parties appear to be waging a campaign to bully Ellis into changing course on a decision it has already made this is in the best interest of our students and within its legal right to make.”