Janitors reach interim agreement

By Gerry Tuoti

On Friday, October 4, striking janitors reached an interim agreement with six cleaning contractors.

Janitors at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254 headquarters at 11 Beacon St. were encouraged by the interim agreement. In the headquarters’ reception area, surrounded by stacks of picket signs and boxes of purple “Justice for Janitors” T-shirts, half a dozen janitors spoke to each other about the strike, the new agreement and the future.

SEIU Local 254 spokeswoman, Sylvia Panfil, is pleased by the progress made since the strike.

“The interim agreement sends the message that it’s possible to make changes,” she said.

Under the new agreement, janitors who work 27.5 hours per week will qualify for health insurance. Under the old contract, they were required to work 29 hours a week in order to qualify for health benefits. Part-time workers who wish to qualify for health insurance will now be able to add hours to their schedules. A newly established labor management committee will manage the transition from part-time to full-time work. Janitors who wish to continue working part-time will be allowed to do so. Other benefits covered by the October 4 interim agreement include three paid sick days and a training fund for English classes and job training.

The six contractors that signed the interim agreement with the janitors are: Allan Industries, ABM, Colin, Collins, Control and One Source. Though the agreement covers the approximately 2,000 Boston janitors who work for these companies it only affects about 100 of the nearly 2,000 janitors on strike.

UNICCO, Boston’s leading cleaning services contractor, and Consolidated Cleaning, the company contracting many of Northeastern’s janitors, are not among the six companies that signed the interim agreement with the janitors.

“UNICCO is our primary target. They’re still refusing to provide janitors with fair contracts and benefits,” Panfil said. “The strike will continue to escalate. We’re going to continue to strike until companies agree to provide janitors with basic fair treatment.”

SEIU Local 254 Deputy Trustee Rocio Saenz agrees.

“As long as there is injustice, there will be protests,” he said, “At the end of the day, this fight is about janitors being able to support their families and having benefits, so when they get sick they can see a doctor.”

UNICCO said their contract proposal will save jobs in Massachusetts.

“If we accepted union demands for a full-time workforce, thousands of part-time employees would suffer economic hardships through layoffs,” a UNICCO spokesperson said in a written statement.

UNICCO also said their current contract proposal would give the union workers a 36.5 percent wage and benefit increase over the next four years.

Many of the nearly 2,000 striking janitors endured hardships during the past week.

“Most [striking janitors] realized this was going to be a sacrifice and are determined to strike for as long as it takes,” Panfil said.

This week the union will start to provide the striking janitors with strike benefits, which amounts to fifty percent of their wages.

“There’s been an outpouring of community support,” Panfil said. “The owner of the John Hancock Building pledged $1.5 million to our cause for health insurance.”

Panfil also said Catholic Charities have been instrumental in helping the striking janitors. They established a “Take-In Center” in Dorchester.

“Janitors can go there and be eligible for food, financial, and medical services,” she said.

Panfil said the janitors are encouraged by the amount of support they’ve received from students.

“I think student support plays a very critical role,” she said, “Especially for janitors who clean university buildings like the ones at Northeastern.”

To learn more about the SEIU strike, you can contact the SEIU Local 254 at (617) 513-8634 or visit www.justiceforjanitors.org. To learn more about UNICCO, you can visit www.unicco.com.

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