N. Calif. workers win new contracts

As 2007 neared an end, northern California unions representing thousands of workers, including some that had conducted long, drawn-out negotiations, announced the successful completion of new contracts.

SEIU Local 24/7 said last week its members had voted overwhelmingly to OK a new five-year pact with private security firms including nationwide companies such as Securitas, ABM and Allied Barton. The new agreement covers some 4,000 workers providing security services in office buildings in San Francisco and the East Bay.

The workers had been without a contract since June 30, and their negotiations with the security companies had been difficult.

Together with union and community supporters, the workers repeatedly rallied and marched in San Francisco and Oakland. A three-day strike in September affected security services in several prime San Francisco office towers. The workers, mostly African American, were backed by the NAACP, the California Legislative Black Caucus, and many area elected officials. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom helped broker the agreement.

“This groundbreaking contract leads the way for hundreds of thousands of security officers all over the country,” Mike Garcia, vice president of the Service Employees union’s Property Services Division and head of the negotiating team, said in a statement.

The union said that besides higher wages, security officers working in San Francisco and in the largest East Bay buildings will now have fully paid individual health insurance through Kaiser Permanente, and for the first time will have the option to add family coverage with an employee cap of $225 by the end of the contract. Workers at smaller buildings in the East Bay will have a seniority-based career advancement process to move into higher paid posts and achieve the same benefits.

SEIU’s Property Services Division called the Local 24/7 contract “the best, in terms of wage and family health care increases,” in the history of the division, which represents over a quarter million members nationwide.

Security officers are also engaged in contract talks in Los Angeles and Seattle, while talks are slated for Minneapolis, Boston and Washington, D.C., next year.

Last month Machinists Local 1546 members at Waste Management ratified a new five-year contract that the union said protected their health care, work rules and wage standards.

The machinists, together with hundreds of recycling, landfill and clerical workers from International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6, stood together on the picket line with their brothers and sisters from Teamsters Local 70 for nearly the whole month of July, when Waste Management abruptly locked out the Teamsters two days after that contract had expired.

Health care, which had loomed large in the Teamsters’ talks, was again at issue in the Machinists’ negotiations. And again, strong support from the Teamsters and ILWU members, along with backing of many area elected officials, helped win the new contract. Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums again played a crucial role in the outcome.

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers at northern California Save Mart, Raley’s and Lucky supermarkets have voted overwhelmingly to approve new four-year agreements including across-the-boards wage increases, better health and welfare benefits, modified work assignments and a uniform contract expiration for all unions. The union was holding informational meetings with its members at Safeway stores, prior to a pre-Christmas mail-in ratification vote.

mbechtel @pww.org