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Boston janitors strike downtown office buildings
"We're defending our lives"

By Gina Sartori | October 4, 2002 | Page 11

BOSTON--After working without a contract for a month, more than 1,000 janitors in Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 614 and maintenance workers in SEIU Local 254 walked off the job.

The strike targets major downtown office buildings such as Boston's World Trade Center and One Post Office Square. "This is a struggle to defend our home, our children, our lives," explained a janitor at a 300-strong rally at the State House on the eve of the strike.

Union workers walked out after Unicco Service Co., the company that provides cleaning services to 1,400 buildings in the Boston area, refused to grant better health benefits or more full-time positions.

SEIU has received verbal agreements that Teamsters Local 25--which represents both UPS drivers and Waste Management collectors--and the Communications Workers of America won't cross picket lines. "The unity of the workers is our armor in struggle," said a janitor.

Kirby Conrad of Iron Workers Local 35 in Kansas City was one of many union members who came out to show solidarity with the janitors. He also carried the message of behalf Iron Workers Local 7 in Boston that they would not cross "any picket lines" and that "we need to stand together."

The janitors' plight is a classic tale of greed. Steven Kletjian, Unicco's chief executive and principal owner, received $1.2 million last year, and Unicco has $600 million in annual revenue. On the other hand, more than 75 percent of janitors are part-time, earning less than $39 dollars a day with no health benefits. Full-time workers have no family health care options, and many can't afford to pay their own single-person insurance premiums.

To afford decent housing in Boston, you need to earn $25.83 per hour, but janitors earn about $10 per hour--compared to $17 an hour in New York and $15 in San Francisco.

Unicco recently ran a full-page ad in the Boston Globe repeating its "last, best and final offer" to workers--a raise of $2.50 per hour over four years. This is insulting.

Even some powerful corporations like Fleet Bank and high-profile politicians like Mayor Thomas Menino and Senator Edward Kennedy have called on Unicco to pay decent wages and benefits to its workers.

But the key to winning justice for the janitors will be workers' own strength on the picket lines. That's why the 11,000 janitors working for Unicco at buildings through the Boston area should walk off the job.

Menino is more interested in maintaining order in "his city" than pursuing justice. His intervention has already delayed action once.

The union's rallies have been militant and loud, and the union enjoys tremendous local support. The Community Church near Copley Square and Old West Church on Cambridge St. have allowed the union to use their facilities for its strike headquarters.

With this kind of support and a citywide strike, the janitors can win all of their demands.

For information or to send donations, write to SEIU Local 254 Strike Fund, 11 Beacon St., 2nd Floor, Boston, MA, 02108.

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