- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Janitors and office-cleaning companies in the District agreed on a new contract late yesterday, bringing new benefits to part-time workers and defusing threats of a strike.

Under the five-year contract, which is expected to be ratified Wednesday, the 750 most-senior part-time workers will receive health benefits, and the other workers can pay into a health plan. Wages will increase $2.20 per hour over five years.

About 4,000 workers, all members of the Service Employees International Union Local 82 will vote on the contract tomorrow. The cleaning contractors were represented by the Washington Service Contractors Association, which was formed by 14 area contractors.

Union members will also get three sick days a year and, beginning in 2005, will work one more hour per week. Such benefits are rare for part-time workers, who make up about 90 percent of all janitors in the union.

The union and the contractors agreed on most of the economic aspects of the contract Wednesday. Sources close to the negotiations said yesterday that the two sides concentrated on more-specific noneconomic components, which were not heavily debated but took a long time to work through.

The health care component of the contract was virtually identical to what the contractors proposed. It appeared that the union and contractors met halfway on the issue of wages, with the union securing higher increases than what the contractors proposed, but stretched out over five years instead of three.

Even while negotiations were winding down, the union continued to speak out for health care and better wages yesterday at a rally in Franklin Square downtown. Several hundred union members yelled chants, many of them in Spanish, while waving flags and shaking soda cans filled with sunflower seeds.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, spoke briefly at the rally in support of the union, along with Jos Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Labor Council.

“[The negotiators] have the employers on the ropes, and we are going to keep them there until they squeal like a pig,” said Mr. Williams, who called the contract “one of the greatest victories of the labor movement in this area.”

The janitors’ campaign for health care and better wages is part of a larger movement called Justice for Janitors, which was founded in 1985 by John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation. The movement organized a 24-day strike of janitors in Boston in October, and it gained notoriety in the District in 1995 for a series of demonstrations, including the blocking of the 14th Street Bridge.

Since before negotiations began, the janitors union has been outspoken in its desire for health care and better wages, particularly for its part-time members. Under the old contract, the average janitor in the District made about $8 per hour and worked between four and six hours per day. The average doctor’s visit cost a full day’s pay, janitors said.

it required a week of work to pay for a prescription of antibiotics.

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