Metro area janitors who are unionized under the Service Employees International Union Local 26 (SEIU) skipped a second walkout after officials announced they had reached a tentative contract agreement with local cleaning companies early Monday — though one big issue for the janitors remained unaddressed in the deal.
According to the union, which represents 4,000 local janitors, a deal was reached at 1 a.m. Monday morning, just hours before a planned second strike. SEIU members will vote on the measure this weekend; union leaders are encouraging them to vote yes on the deal, which they say will raise wages by 12.3 percent by the end of the four-year contract, add extra paid sick days and increase health-care eligibility and coverage. Union janitors held a 24-hour strike last month.
“The contract is one that we are extremely proud of,” said Local 26 President Javier Morillo. “Thousands of janitors will make over $15 an hour immediately,” he said. “This money will bring millions of dollars directly into communities of color.”
Currently, full-time union janitors make $14.62, Morillo said, but by the end of the contract they will be above $16 an hour. Part-timers, who currently make between $11 and $13 an hour, won’t make it to $15 in this contract, but will get the same 12.3 percent wage increase, he said.
Better health-care benefits
Full-timers will also see increased health-care benefits, such as increased disability pay and an extra paid sick day per year, Morillo said, but the biggest gain was for part-timers in that area. Part-time workers who previously received no paid sick days will now receive two per year, he said, and those working 30 hours or more will now be eligible for health care.
John Nesse, with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association, which represents the cleaning companies, said he wouldn’t discuss the details of the settlement until it’s ratified by the union, but he believes everyone is pleased to have reached an agreement and avoided another walkout. “We believe this settlement is in the mutual best interest of the employees, the employers and the customers we serve,” he said.
But some union members believe the contract fell short on one major component: defining specific workload limitations for the janitors.
SEIU executive board member Brahim Kone said he doesn’t believe the contract fully addresses the janitors’ concerns over growing workloads. “We have some wins but we also have some losses,” he said. “We wanted workload [limitations] to be resolved now, but it wasn’t.”
Jessica Hansen, who has worked as a janitor for Marsden Building Maintenance for 39 years, said she’s watched her workload double since the early ‘80s, and a floor she was expected to clean in eight hours before she’s now expected to do in four and a half. The increased workload has led to chronic aches and pains, she said, for her and her colleagues. “A lot of back aches, shoulder aches. Lots of other people I know have problems with their shoulders,” she said.
Morillo said that despite being unable to reach exact workload limitations, the union still made strides in the right direction. In the new contract, he said, union stewards will be able to perform walk-throughs of workplaces, on company time, to monitor workload conditions and make recommendations. Also, cleaning companies and the union will jointly fund a University of Minnesota School of Public Health study on workload conditions among janitors, he said, which will potentially help them better define the issue in the future.
While Kone said he’s still concerned about addressing ever-increasing workloads, he’s still happy they were able to come to an agreement. “I’m satisfied,” he said. “Overall I think it was a good thing.”