Just days away from a possible strike, New England's 14,000 janitors represented by
SEIU Local 615 received a major a boost today as dozens of faith and elected leaders lined up behind their cause.
"The members of SEIU Local 615 need and deserve fair pay, fair time and fair benefits. Their work often goes unnoticed, yet janitors provide vital services to our business and real estate communities and help keep Boston's reputation as a clean and welcoming city," Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. "I urge cleaning contractors to come to a fair and satisfactory resolution with janitors represented by SEIU Local 615 prior to the contract expiration date."
With a September 30 expiration date looming, Janitors have been in negotiations with national cleaning contractors over a new contract for several weeks. The janitors seek improved access to employer-paid health benefits, more hours so they can support their families, and a concrete path to full-time work. Nearly two thirds of the janitors are confined to part-time work and do not qualify for employer-paid health insurance. Added hours would boost overall incomes while providing access to employer-provided health coverage, shifting health insurance costs from taxpayers to building owners.
Menino was joined by Senator John Kerry and every member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, who issued a joint statement. "The creation of good, middle class jobs is vital to our shared prosperity and the continued economic success of our region," the statement read.
"Good jobs help to build strong communities and are essential to creating a regional economy that works for everyone. Our janitors make it possible for us to work in safe and clean buildings and they add value to our daily lives," the elected leaders concluded. In addition to Kerry, the statement was signed by Congressman Michael Capuano, Congressman William Keating, Congressman Stephen Lynch, Congressman Edward Markey, Congressman James McGovern, Congressman Richard Neal, Congressman John Olver, Congressman John Tierney, and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.
Faith leaders have also taken up the janitors cause, saying in a public statement, "Our many faiths reject as unjust those economic relationships that leave one party struggling for sufficiency. We will stand firmly with immigrant janitors should they need to go on strike to gain this security for themselves and
Reverend Don Wells of the Old South Church, Bishop Filipé Teixeira of the Diocese of St. Francis of Assisi, Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B'nai Torah and 72 other leaders have signed on to the statement supporting New England janitors. Faith groups including the Unitarian Universalist Mass Action, Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice, the Boston Black Ministerial Alliance, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, the Labor Guild, the New England United Methodist Conference, New England Jewish Labor Committee also signed on.
"Raising standards for janitors would benefit our communities as a whole, help create strong neighborhoods and improve the lives of thousands of families," their joint statement continued. "For these reasons, we call on some of wealthiest companies in our region to make sure that the janitors who clean their buildings are treated fairly."
State Treasurer Steve Grossman also issued a statement yesterday that said: "This is a fundamental issue of fairness, and I'm outraged that two-thirds of these janitors are hired by companies on a part-time basis, in too many cases to avoid paying health care benefits. As the CEO of a family business that has been unionized for 60 years, I knew that the contributions of our workers were essential to the success of our operation, and that our ability to thrive and profit was directly linked to every one of my colleagues. I strongly urge employers to listen to the needs of their janitors, show respect for their concerns, and bargain in good faith to ensure that these workers are given appropriate hours, access to benefits, and a true living wage."
The current five-year contract is set to expire at midnight on Saturday. In 2002, janitors went on strike for four weeks before a settlement could be reached.