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Janitors Union, Contractors Reach Tentative Agreement


The union representing striking janitors reached a tentative contract agreement Saturday night with 18 cleaning companies.

The 8,500 Los Angeles County janitors will continue their nearly 3-week-old walkout, however, until they vote on the proposed deal at 11 a.m. Monday, union local President Mike Garcia said.

Both sides agreed not to release details of the agreement before Monday, but Garcia said the janitors "should be very happy with the terms."

The deal is subject to approval by members of the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, which represents the striking janitors, who earn an average of $7.20 an hour.

The outcome of the strike--which by the weekend had come down to just a five-cents-an-hour difference between janitors and their employers, is expected to set the tone for negotiations on contracts covering 100,000 union members this summer, including teachers, actors, county workers and bus mechanics, county labor federation leaders have said.

The sticking point had been the amount of raises in the first year of the proposed three-year contract for janitors working outside the highly unionized cores of downtown Los Angeles and Century City. On Thursday, contractors agreed to offer 25-cent raises, while the union, which initially sought $1, insisted on 30 cents.

Earlier, both sides had informally agreed to 60-cent hikes in each of the following two years of the contract.

For nearly three weeks, the janitors and backers have taken their cause to the streets, often during morning or afternoon rush hours. Wearing red T-shirts and carrying picket signs, the janitors have marched in downtown Los Angeles, the South Bay, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Ventura, Long Beach and the Westside.

Tensions ran high as the strike lengthened and negotiating sessions dragged on between the contractors for about three-fourths of Los Angeles County's prime office space and the union's Local 1877.

A host of local leaders, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Mayor Richard Riordan and Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, have tried to help settle the strike, and such national political leaders as Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) have lent encouragement to the workers.

On Saturday, Mahony reiterated his support for the striking janitors.

"My thoughts and prayers reach out to the janitors, who are in a great struggle to increase their wages and benefits to support their families with a decent standard of living," Mahony said in a written statement. "Their cause is just and right."

Dick Davis, chief negotiator for the contractors who employ the janitors, on Friday said an impasse would be declared on Monday if no settlement could be reached by then. One option would be to hire replacement workers then, he said.

The strike began April 3 after workers rejected a contract offer that would have raised wages by 80 cents over three years. Janitors in downtown and Century City earn $7.80 an hour, and those in outlying areas, $6.80 an hour.

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