Janitors get contract Union comes to agreement with cleaning companies
by :Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Jul 06, 2001 | 2474 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For more than a week, protesting janitors and cleaning staff banged drums, clanked bottles and pounded mental cans, trying to get commuters at the Journal Square PATH station to take notice of their strike. Many shouted slogans, held up signs, and some blew whistles in shrieks that filled the concrete shell leading to the subway stairs. Most of the signs, both in English and Spanish, used words like "fairness" and "independence." Indeed, several protestors and union officials even dressed up in 18th century garb to make their point.

On July 2, however, these workers had more to shout about, as their union announced a signed agreement with several key companies doing work in Hudson County, the Meadowlands area and sections of Bergen County.

As a result of the discussion conducted in May at the Radisson Hotel in Secaucus, as many as 500 workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ will receive wage hikes, paid vacations, sick and personal days, family health insurance for full-time workers and free training from 23 companies.

SEIU local 32BJ represents about 70,000 service workers, cleaners, doormen and window cleaners in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

"This victory was won by the courage and determination of hundreds of workers who were willing to fight to the American dream," said Michael P. Fishman, president of SEIU Local 32BJ.

About 300 workers went on strike throughout Northern New Jersey in May and are still striking against the Port Authority - which uses TUCS cleaning service, a company that is not part of the new contract.

Rep. Robert Menendez, (D-33rd Dist.) spoke before the crowd of striking workers at Journal Square to celebrate their victory and throw support behind their battle with the Port Authority.

"For many of these workers, this contract could mean the difference between earning $6,200 a year and eventually earning $17,000 a year," Menendez said. "For too long, these workers have reported to work every day, done their job and cleaned the buildings and facilities in our community without even the slightest semblance of respect or dignity from their employers or buildings' owners."

The new contract will take affect in September and covers commercial buildings in various parts of Hudson County, the Meadowlands area, part of Bergen County and the City of Newark.

Employee's wages will increase from $5.75 an hour to $10.75 an hour over the next three years. Workers who put in more than 27.5 hours will receive health insurance and they will also be entitled to a variety of educational programs such as classes in English as a Second Language, General Equivalency Diploma studies and computer training.

Negotiations for the contract were conducted in the Radisson Hotel in Secaucus last month and involved numerous local buildings in Jersey City, North Bergen and Secaucus. Among the companies the union has sought out for negotiations has been Hartz Mountain Industries and Liz Claiborne in Secaucus.

"We have been targeting commercial, not resident office buildings and high rises," said Denis Johnston, spokesperson for the union. "These are buildings between 100,000 and 400,000 square feet that employ 80 to 90 people - such as the Harborside Financial Center in Jersey City."

Linda Seda, who spoke at the July 2 rally at Journal Square, said she had worked seven years at Haborside and is currently employed there for 25 hours per week at $6.03 per hour. Under the new contract, she will be making $10.75 an hour by 2004 and have an opportunity to move up from part-time to full-time employment which, she said, would give her family health benefits for the first time.

A spokesperson for TMC Services Inc. of Livingston, one of the largest companies to sign the contract, said the agreement would not affect competition because most of the companies working in the area also signed.

Earlier in the year, Colin Cares, the largest non-union cleaning contractor in Northern New Jersey, signed an agreement with the union.

In throwing his support behind the workers, Menendez promised to use the weight of his position on the congressional finance committee to help send a message to the Port Authority.

"When a worker is providing a service to a public agency like the Port Authority, then we as public official have a responsibility to ensure that those workers are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, including a decent livable wage on which they can support their families," Menendez said.

Several contractors including TUCS Cleaning Service Inc. of Orange - which does work for the PATH stations - are not part of the settlement, and indeed, several workers claim they were locked out because they wore union organizing stickers while on the job.

Port Authority officials declined comment, saying all comments should be directed to TUCS. TUCS, however, did not respond to repeated telephone calls.

Union officials have filed a complaint against TUCS with the National Labor Relations Board, charging the company with violations of federal labor laws.
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