Boston janitors continue strike with victories

BOSTON – Janitors in the Boston metropolitan area continued their strike into the second week as six contractors broke rank with the Maintenance Contractors of New England and agreed to sign interim agreements with the union. Over 2,000 janitors are now out on strike.

The six cleaning firms agreed to reduce the number of hours that would trigger being covered by health insurance. The workers’ main demands are increase in pay, more hours for janitors, and health insurance coverage for more workers. About three-quarters of the janitors work just four-hour shifts and make under $40 a day.

The interim agreements further isolate Unicco Service Company, the biggest cleaning firm in the area. Only Unicco-contracted buildings have been struck. Jill Hurst, a Service Employees International Union Local 615/254 official, told an afternoon press conference that these companies “do not want to follow Unicco.”

The union has called out almost 100 buildings on strike in Boston and its suburbs. The first day 30 buildings went on strike.

The janitors have received support from a wide range of sectors that includes unions, students, clergy and even building owners. David D’Alessandro, CEO of the insurance company John Hancock, announced that he has commissioned a study to see what the increased costs would be to satisfy the union’s demand. D’Alessandro said that it would cost his company an average of up to $375,000 more a year and that they were willing to pay the increase. Other building owners have made similar statements.

In another development, the City of Boston filed suit to prevent the strikers and their supporters from marching through the streets of Boston without a permit. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals, in an interim ruling, said that the local would be required to obtain march permits but the city cannot require it in advance of 12 hours.

The mostly Latino striking janitors have been staging marches through the downtown area during the day. They have also conducted marches after taking down the picket lines on the way to rallies and meetings. Union officials said that they tried to get a march permit last week but were stopped from doing so.

Rocío Sáenz, deputy trustee of Local 615/254, said that the workers were on the street so that people can see them and learn about their issues.

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com