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San Francisco Janitors May Walk Off Job

August 04, 2003|From Associated Press

Members of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 3,000 janitors at about 250 buildings in San Francisco, could walk off the job as early as tonight, according to Beth Trimarco, a spokeswoman for the union.

A janitors union voted Saturday to authorize a strike, raising the possibility of a work stoppage in hundreds of downtown buildings here for the first time in more than a decade.

About 800 union members voted overwhelmingly to authorize the strike, according to Mike Garcia, president of the union's Local 1877.

"Our strike vote today I believe sends a very strong message that our members are ready to push back," he said.

Union members said the final management offer, proposed Friday night, would have raised the cost of workers' health care.

Management negotiators could not be reached for comment after the strike vote, but in the past they have said that with vacancy rates soaring because of the slow economy, building owners need to shift some of the cost of health care to workers.

No further negotiations were scheduled before the potential strike, raising the possibility that the coming workweek would begin with the city's first janitorial work stoppage since a 1990 strike that lasted nine days.

Last-minute settlements averted janitorial strikes in San Francisco in 1996 and 1999, but union members said this time they are determined to extract a better deal from management or walk off the job.

"This is a fight for dignity," said Elsa Almanza, a janitor for 22 years who voted to authorize a strike.

The city's union janitors currently have health insurance coverage that does not require them to make a co-payment when they visit the doctor. The management proposal would have implemented co-payments for the first time.

The janitors' top pay rate is $15.65 per hour.

With pension payments and health insurance, the compensation package comes to just under $20 per hour, building owners say.

The West Coast's slow economy has produced similar disputes in other cities, but agreements have been hammered out in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Orange County and Seattle.

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