Union janitors rally for new contract

Izumi Hansen June 29, 2016 0
Unionized janitors and their supporters march downtown on May 13, 2016 to raise awareness of their working conditions as SEIU local 6, Seattle's janitor union, entered negotiations for a new contract in early June. • Photo by Izumi Hansen

Unionized janitors and their supporters march downtown on May 13, 2016 to raise awareness of their working conditions as SEIU local 6, Seattle’s janitor union, entered negotiations for a new contract in early June. • Photo by Izumi Hansen

Local unionized janitors entered negotiations for a new contract earlier this month. SEIU Local 6 entered the negotiations requesting $15 minimum wage, safer workloads, and keeping family medical benefits. The previous contract expires June 30.

Earlier this month, King County Council proclaimed June 15 as “Justice for Janitors Day” in King County. Justice for Janitors rallies were held in downtown Seattle on June 17 and May 13.

At the rally on May 13, unionized janitors and their supporters walked throughout downtown to buildings with non-unionized and unionized janitors. About 100 people came to the rally.

“We are demanding to be paid a fair wage,” SEIU Local 6 president Sergio Salinas told the crowd. “We are not begging.”

In addition to 3,000 janitors, SEIU6 represents over 2,000 security officers and airport and stadium workers in Washington.

Union organizers said janitors have been asked to clean more space during a shift, resulting in more injuries. They say that the increase in cleaning space along with the prosperity of building owners in Seattle have not resulted in an increase in compensation.

City council member Lisa Herbold spoke at the rally. “Janitors are being asked to work harder and harder,” she said. “Those speed ups are causing more and more injuries.”

The May 13, 2016 rally in Downtown Seattle was part of the Justice for Janitors national movement. • Photo by Izumi Hansen

The May 13, 2016 rally in Downtown Seattle was part of the Justice for Janitors national movement. • Photo by Izumi Hansen

In a 2014 report to state representatives from the Washington State Bureau of Labor and Industries, janitorial work had one of the highest rates of injury claims and costs among the the 313 industries recognized by Washington state. The report said that while women comprise only about one-third of janitorial workers nationwide, women filed more than 53 percent of the compensable injury claims for Washington janitorial workers from 2003 to 2012. The report also found that newly employed janitors who were in their job for less than a year suffered the most workplace injuries. A third of the claims came from janitors who spoke a language other than English.

The report could not determine if limiting the area cleaned by janitors during a shift was a health hazard.

The rallies in Seattle were part of the Justice for Janitors national movement. The movement originated in Denver three decades ago and gained traction in Los Angeles during the 1990s.

Visi Cariaso, a retired janitor and long-time union advocate, said that she had seen an increase in workload for janitors and a decrease in janitorial staff.

“To work this job you have to be a fighter,” said Cariaso. “If you work together then you can accomplish more.”

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