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Hahn Tells Union He Supports Janitors' Cause

The mayor urges building owners to meet the labor group's new contract demands.

March 11, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

On the eve of contract talks between the janitors' union and Los Angeles building owners, Mayor James K. Hahn told union members Monday that he supports their cause and has urged landlords to avoid a strike like the one that disrupted the city three years ago.

"I support your efforts to have decent wages and decent benefits," Hahn told about 60 union members at their Pico-Union headquarters. "We need people to have dignity when they work full-time jobs."

Hahn said he is ready to intervene if the talks break down, as they did in 2000. At that time, a three-week strike resulted in massive demonstrations that shut down major streets and hindered operations at city high-rises.

The strike was settled with a contract that increased wages for 8,500 janitors in Los Angeles County by 25% over three years, to $9.70 an hour.

This year, the negotiating team for Service Employees International Union Local 1877 wants a similar pay increase for members, as well as maintenance of health benefits. The current contract expires at the end of April.

The appearance at the union headquarters allowed Hahn to reach out to labor leaders who backed former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa over Hahn in the 2001 mayoral election and were instrumental in electing Villaraigosa to the City Council last week.

"This is significant here today that the mayor asked to meet with us," union political coordinator Javier Gonzalez told members. "I think he sees we've been able to demonstrate political power in the city of Los Angeles. He saw that we had a big victory with Antonio Villaraigosa."

Villaraigosa helped negotiate the 2000 contract and has said he is willing to become involved again.

Hahn also supported the janitors in 2000; as city attorney he marched with the Justice for Janitors campaign during the strike.

And he told labor leaders in a private meeting before addressing the union workers that he is willing to use the bully pulpit of his office and any other powers at his disposal to keep pressure on building owners to reach a reasonable contract.

"I want you to call on me if you need any help during the negotiations," the mayor said.

Hahn said he has talked to some major building owners in recent days.

He said he urged them to "come to a reasonable agreement with the janitors' union because I think a strike would be very disruptive to our city's economy."

With talks beginning today, building owners hope a strike can be averted, said Barbara Harris, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Assn.

"I think it can be avoided because of early negotiations and a real intent by both parties to make it work," Harris said.

Hahn also announced Monday that he wants the city to help create standards and training requirements for private security guards, a move that could help labor in its long-standing efforts to organize the guards into a union.

"With the threat of terrorism, it's important to make sure that security guards, security officers in all buildings in the city meet professional standards, have the right training," Hahn said.

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