Suburban janitors hope to reach agreement with property owners
Union officials said they hope to negotiate a new labor contract Tuesday night that will see wages increase for janitors working in suburban Philadelphia.
Officials from Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, along with a negotiating committee made up of union members, have been in talks all day Tuesday with the Building Operators Labor Relations (BOLR) division of the Building Owners and Management Association, the organization that represents the properties where the janitors work. A new four-year labor contract must be negotiated before midnight between the union and BOLR. In it, workers hope to secure a wage raise. Members have been asking for $15 an hour since bargaining began on Nov. 5.
The negotiations taking place Tuesday night are similar to the ones that took place in October with janitors working in Center City. This contract will affect those who work in the outlying suburban areas of the Philadelphia region in places like Montgomery, Bucks and Chester counties.
Daisy Cruz, the Mid-Atlantic district leader for the union, said she expects negotiations to continue into the night.
“There have been some proposals going back and forth but we’re very far apart as far as wages are concerned,” said Cruz. “We’re fighting for $15 an hour for these workers not because they want it, but because they need it.”
Elva Ramos, a suburban office cleaner who is part of the union’s bargaining committee said the union is taking an “$15 or nothing” approach to the negotiations.
“I think that having a good wage means not having to work two or three jobs which gives us very little time for our families,” she said. “We as Latinos enjoy time with our families but we also came here to work. One or two jobs does not give us enough money to be able to pay for our rent or to pay bills or even eat.”
According to a union spokesperson, 95 percent of their membership is Latino. Ramos said many union members work construction or restaurant jobs alongside their jobs as janitors. She said she works two jobs.
“In the morning I have a job where I go in at 6:30 a.m.,” said Ramos. “I get out of that job around 3:30 p.m. and then I go home to get ready for my next job where I go in at 5 p.m. and get out around 10 p.m. My children are at school most of the day and I don’t see them at all when I am home.”
Cruz said negotiations will affect 1,400 janitorial workers who work in buildings leased by large companies such as Glaxosmithkline and Johnson & Johnson.
“These workers are the ones who are making sure that these buildings are clean for people to work in,” she said. “However, these are the workers that most people just forget about. They clean your trash cans and your bathrooms. I’m not sure that they are seeing them as humans with families that they need to take care of.”
Going forward, Ramos said union members will meet to decide whether or not to go on strike, should negotiations fall through. Cruz said the outcome is uncertain.
“Honestly I don’t know,” she said. “They are not anywhere close to $15. We don’t know where the night is going to take us.”
A request for comments from BOLR was not immediately answered.