Chelsea Janitors Fighting for Better Wages

Janitors from Chelsea, East Boston and Revere supported by SEIU Local 615, have been fighting for improved pay and benefits from the Maintenance Contractors of New England.

Over the weekend 300 janitors from here and surrounding communities rallied in neighboring East Boston that included speeches and a march to Mass at a local church where their brooms and mops were blessed by Bishop Robert Hennessey.

By midnight, the workers were prepared to call for a citywide strike of janitorial services at dozens of downtown buildings unless an agreement was made between Local 615 and the Maintenance Contractors of New England

However, on Monday the janitors and the Maintenance Contractors of New England reached a tentative agreement for a four-year contract that will provide significant gains for workers around hours, wages, healthcare, workload and job security.

Janitors still need to ratify the contract.

Local 615 said the agreement would improve the lives of thousands of janitors in throughout New England,

“We went into these negotiations with a goal of more hours, better pay and employer-paid healthcare for more of our workers.” said Local 615 bargaining committee member Silvia Clarke. “I am proud to say the tentative agreement we are taking back to our members has achieved those goals.”

Clarke said she was moved by the support Local 615 received from the community—from faith leaders to elected officials.

“We won this agreement by standing united and fighting for what was just,” she said.

The group was supported by Mayor Thomas Menino and locally by City Councilor Sal LaMattina and the rest of his colleagues as well as U.S. Senator John Kerry, State Treasurer Steve Grossman and U.S. Representatives Michael Capuano.

Under the new contract full-time work will increase to 200 percent for workers.

Cleaning contractors agreed to convert a minimum of 680 jobs to full-time positions over four years—with a goal to convert even more jobs to full-time as additional hours become available.

“We have agreed that all newly constructed buildings of more than 450,000 square feet in the metro Boston area and Cambridge will be staffed full-time,” said Clarke.

For janitors who work in the metro Boston area, wages will increase to $17.85 by 2016–an 11.9 percent increase.

For the first time, janitors—many of whom are required to clean hundreds of offices in an evening—have a process to resolve issues over excessive workloads.

The contract creates a new minimum shift of four hours for all janitors working in commercial office buildings of more than 100,000 square feet to be achieved through attrition.

Contractors agreed to preserve healthcare, vision and dental benefits.

The contract improves job security for janitors by eliminating probationary periods in situations when a building changes cleaning contractors. This means that when there is a change of contractor at a building, workers who have more than one year of service will no longer be subject to a new probationary period.

The agreement also creates a joint labor-management funded watchdog organization to investigate and abolish illegal and unfair employment practices in the janitorial industry and for the first time, workers will earn one personal day per year starting in the second year of the contract.

“Our tentative agreement is a big victory not just for janitors but for all of New England,” said Local 615 President Rocio Saenz. “It shows how workers and contractors can come together to create good jobs that strengthen our communities and allow workers to provide a better future for their families.”

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