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Campaign Aims to Organize Janitors in O.C.

Labor: Union that found success improving wages and benefits for office building custodians in L.A. plans a rally in Irvine today.

March 31, 2000|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An aggressive labor campaign that won better wages and benefits for janitors in Los Angeles will try to duplicate its success in Orange County, where organizers say many of the more than 3,000 janitors are overworked, underpaid and have no benefits.

Justice for Janitors, founded in the early 1980s, is launching its Orange County campaign today with a rally in Irvine supported by the county's leading Democrats, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, state Sen. Joe Dunn of Santa Ana and Assemblyman Lou Correa of Anaheim.

The group's efforts are part of a summer offensive of high-profile and potentially disruptive actions planned by the labor movement in Southern California. More than 8,000 union members--from teachers to janitors, actors to sheriff's deputies--converged for a rally in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

Thousands of office building janitors are set to walk off their jobs in Los Angeles on Monday if their wage demands aren't met. And the militant hotel and restaurant workers union is gearing up for campaigns targeting luxury hotels.

Organizers at Justice for Janitors are expected to take aim today at ABM Janitorial Services, which they say employs most of the janitors at Orange County office buildings. The group alleges that the janitors lag far behind their counterparts in Los Angeles in compensation.

"[AMB] has signed an agreement with the union in Los Angeles, but they operate non-union in Orange County," said Lety Salcedo, one of the group's leaders. "The workers have talked to us and they want similar protections that the L.A. janitors have."

Executives at ABM Janitorial Services and its Orange County subsidiary, Bradford Building Services, did not return telephone calls Thursday.

Unlike janitors in Los Angeles, Orange County's custodians are not in unions, and no formal contract talks have taken place, Salcedo said. For now, local janitors are simply taking the first step in making their demands known at today's rally near the corner of Von Karman and Morse avenues.

Salcedo called working conditions in the county "deplorable."

"You have people trying to perform the duties of a full-time person in part-time hours," she said. Without a union or some other oversight, she said, managers have been able to "get away with it."

Costa Mesa resident Tomas de Los Angeles said he typically works 40 hours a week and makes $6 an hour. The 27-year-old father of three said he hasn't been given a raise in more than two years and makes ends meet by working a second job in landscaping and gardening. He has no medical benefits.

"I've asked for a raise," De Los Angeles said. "They tell me no, that it is not their decision."

De Los Angeles is expected to speak at the rally. Sanchez, the new head of Orange County's Central Labor Council, and Correa also are expected to address the rally.

Dunn, who canceled his rally appearance because of a scheduling conflict, said Thursday that the Justice for Janitors group has been unfairly criticized for what some see as interfering with the rights of business owners.

"This is simply about fairness," he said. "We want all of our workers in Orange County to receive a fair wage and benefits, the same as they do in other parts of the state."

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