SEIU pickets New England to aid bargaining

As one of nine rallies around the eastern part of Massachusetts, members of the SEIU 615 demonstrated at the Edgewater Office Park on July 12 to demand better wages and benefits for the janitors and security guards. These workers maintain and protect multimillion-dollar properties where they are working under a contract signed in 2002. The contract expires in August, and was negotiated following a 2002 strike in which thousands of janitors in the Boston area fought for a living wage and “the means to escape poverty through hard work.”

SEIU Local 615 represents 15,000 janitors and security officers in Greater Boston, Worcester, Providence, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Some 400 SEIU members are contracted to work in Burlington and Wakefield at the companies such as Unicco and Janitronics.

According to organizers, the July 12 march highlighted the gains of the past five years, which include organizing janitors in New Hampshire and Rhode Island; and, for the first time, thousands of security officers fighting for a living wage and a voice in contract negotiations. Security officers working in office buildings in Greater Boston are in the process of joining the union and negotiating their first contract with their employers.

“It’s a crying shame that when workers are cleaning and protecting buildings worth millions of dollars they are not paid enough to the meet basic expenses of food, shelter and clothing,” said Lauren Jacobs, SEIU’s director of organizing at the union’s office in Downtown Crossing.

While the last contract increased wages to $12.95 an hour for janitorial workers within 15 miles of Boston, Jacobs says some workers’ hours were cut from full time to 17 and a half hours a week. Most others work only six to eight hours a week. And with only around 15 percent of Local 615 workers employed full time, the vast majority do not have health insurance.

While they have yet to put forward a wage proposal, Jacobs said the ongoing negotiations are focused on stabilizing workers’ hours.

“Service workers are looking to close the gap between the region’s wealthiest and poorest individuals by increasing wages, receiving better benefits and promoting respect for hard work,” an SEIU statement says.

These benefits include decent medical and adequate leave time and receiving respect and dignity on the job. Negotiations will also focus on the income gap throughout New England and the negative impact it has on the regional economy and quality of life.

Should these demands be met, SEIU janitors and security officers believe they will “be a part of creating a stronger New England, with better opportunities for more workers and safer and stronger neighborhoods throughout the region.”

The Maintenance Contractors of New England are bargaining with SEIU. Their chief negotiator, James Canavan, could not be reached by press time.


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