Clean getaway

Clean getaway

By Alee Hoffman and Gerry Tuoti

Hundreds of janitors, students and other members of the community gathered at the Northeastern T stop Monday afternoon and evening to protest the treatment of Boston janitors, many of whom make $39 a day and receive no medical benefits.

“These are not luxuries they’re asking for; they’re necessities,” rally participant Gabriel Katsh, a junior social studies student at Harvard said. “They deserve healthcare and insurance.”

The rally continued down Huntington Avenue to St. James Avenue and the John Hancock Building as the first day of the janitor’s strike began. The demonstrators continued to the shops at 500 Boylston St., the World Trade Center, and the Old West Church. Additional supporters joined the rally as it made its way through the city. Many striking janitors carried picket signs, shouted bilingual chants, and made noise by beating cleaning buckets and shaking homemade rattlers made from detergent bottles. A few protesters donned huge devilish looking puppets dressed in business suits.

Tension have been mounting between Service Employees International Union (SEIU) janitors and their employers in Boston for the past few months. The majority of Boston area janitors are employed by large companies such as Unicco and Consolidated Cleaning Corporation. Northeastern University employs janitors from the Consolidated Cleaning Corporation.

On August 30 during annual contract negotiations between the janitors and these companies were unsuccessful, and the contracts expired without reaching an agreement. Of the approximately 10,000 janitors in Boston, only 19 percent are fully benefited employees.

Demanding health insurance, sick days, and full time contracts, many janitors went on strike on Monday. Junan Benavidez has worked nights as a janitor at Dana Farber Research Center for 19 years. She receives no health benefits and makes $9.95 per hour.

“There is no insurance, no medical… nothing,” she said.

Northeastern janitors said that even fully benefited janitors had to be on the job for a year before being eligible to use their benefits. One NU janitor called the old contract a “piece of trash.” Northeastern janitors said the small companies are on their side, but that large companies like Unicco and Consolidated are victimizing Boston janitors. Fully covered Northeastern janitors were at the rally to support less fortunate workers.

“We are thinking about each other’s families and salaries. We want to be there for all the janitors in Boston,” said NU janitor Dignida Resperto Huelga.

Eighty percent of Boston area janitors don’t have healthcare, as compared to 28 percent of janitors who are employed by the contract cleaning companies which service Northeastern. The Director of University Communications Ed Klotzbier said that Northeastern has always been supportive of the janitors. He also said that Northeastern has already successfully completed negotiations with the SCIU for Northeastern’s custodial staff.

At noon on Monday the group gathered at Krentzman Quadrangle to discuss the situation with students and to deliver a petition to President Richard Freeland.

The president said he as well as the university supports the union and the local janitors.

“Northeastern has been supportive of the collective bargaining process between the union representing local janitors and the association representing area maintenance companies, including the janitors and contractor that service our buildings. I agree with Northeastern students and faculty in urging a speedy resolution to this matter that is fair and satisfactory,” said President Freeland.

Klotzbier said Northeastern does not deal with Unicco and has used Consolidated for 40 years without a problem. Currently NU uses Consolidated to provide a small percentage of its late night shift janitorial staff. Although NU has the most covered janitors of the Boston facilities, the protesters are not satisfied.

“Seventy-two percent is not enough. Everyone should have healthcare!” said Progressive Student Action Committee member Mike Amato. Amato, 21, and fellow Northeastern student Seth Amsten, 20, were arrested for their participation in a September 12 demonstration.

“Students should realize that tuition is being raised. I want my tuition to go to the janitors, not to line Freeland’s pockets!” said Northeastern middler Joe Knott, a member of the International Socialist Organization.

The protesters at Northeastern shouted chants in English and Spanish. “President Freeland, you’ve got cash! Why do you pay your workers trash?” they chanted.

Though the crowd was very vocal, the demonstration was not violent. “I don’t anticipate any problems,” said Boston Police Captain Ed Wallace.

“I think when students get involved, they enhance their education,” Klotzbier said. “That’s what is so great about Northeastern

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