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Photo: AL DÍA News file photo from a union rally earlier this year. 
Photo: AL DÍA News file photo from a union rally earlier this year. 

Suburban janitors seal deal for higher wages, avoid strike

Deal will see the janitors' wage go up by $1.95 over the next four years.

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The union representing suburban Philadelphia janitors secured wage raises of “nearly $2 an hour” for workers after negotiations went late into Tuesday night.

A new four-year contract has been drafted between the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ and the Building Operators Labor Relations (BOLR) division of the Building Owners and Management Association, the organization that represents the properties where the janitors work. The two groups made the agreement public around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night. The deadline for a new contract was 11:59 p.m. the same night.

The union was seeking to raise the wages for janitors working in the suburban Philadelphia region to $15 an hour. By late Tuesday afternoon, union officials said both parties at the table were “very far apart” on the matter of wages. Members of the union bargaining committee said Tuesday that a strike was possible if a deal was not made.

In the end, the union bargaining committee and BOLR agreed to see the wages increase by $1.95 per hour over the life of the contract. This means the janitors would gradually see their wages go up to $14.30 an hour over the next four years. This is up from $12.35 an hour which was the set wage in the previous contract.

“This is a win win for everyone,” said Daisy Cruz, mid-Atlantic district leader. “Just in time for the holidays, these workers will receive a wage increase that helps them put food on the table and presents underneath the tree. We are happy the building operators are committed to maintaining good jobs that fuel our local economy.”

These negotiations were similar to the ones that took place in October with the janitors who work in Center City. The workers who were involved with this deal are the ones who work in offices in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties. Union officials said the majority of the suburban janitors are immigrants and the membership is 95 percent Latino.

Bob Martin, BOLR president, said the organization feels they reached an equitable contract with the union. He also acknowledged that both sides were far apart on the topics of wages and benefits.

“The settlement was fair,” he said. “We look forward to the four-year agreement that we agreed upon. We were able to find a common ground where both of us could live with. Both parties moved from their position as is common in these negotiations.”

Along with the increase in pay, Martin said the new contract also saw an increase in employer contributions for employee benefits and a “modest increase” in the pre-paid legal services fund available to union members. The next step for BOLR is to present the deal for approval to a board made up of the property owners they represent. Martin said he does not expect the board to have an issue with the new contract.

The union must also ratify the new contract with a vote by their membership. It is scheduled to happen this weekend, though members of the bargaining committee said they are happy with the contract which will affect an estimated 1,400 workers.

“This contract means the world to me and my family,” said Huascar Aragones, a member of the committee. “I will have a good Christmas knowing that next year I don’t have to worry about as much about money. I won’t have to work a second or third job and will be able to spend more time with my family. I am grateful to everyone who has supported us.”

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