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Janitors Reach Tentative Deal With Contractors

The five-year contract, which is expected to be ratified today, maintains paid health insurance.

May 02, 2003|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles janitors' union and janitorial contractors reached a tentative labor agreement Thursday morning after all-night negotiations, averting a repeat of the disruptive 2000 strike.

The five-year contract, expected to be ratified today by members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1877, maintains fully paid family health insurance for the 9,000 janitors under contract countywide. It also provides for small wage increases.

Although union officials would not disclose specific terms before the vote, the wage and benefits package amounts to a gain of about 36% over the life of the contract, said Local 1877 President Mike Garcia. "This was a tough economic climate to bargain in, but we're very happy with what we got," he said.

With health-care costs soaring, maintaining full coverage for members and their families was the key issue at the bargaining table. Garcia said keeping the medical benefits translates into an immediate 80-cent-an-hour increase. Janitors' wages in Los Angeles are $9 to $10 an hour.

The janitors who would be covered by the new contract clean offices throughout Los Angeles County, concentrated mostly in downtown L.A. Hundreds of them marched through downtown Tuesday, a day before their last contract expired.

Three years ago, janitors in L.A. struck for 10 days before signing a contract that provided substantial wage hikes. SEIU Local 1877 has been among the most militant -- and successful -- in the nation, cultivating political and community support through rallies and vigils.

Significantly, commercial property owners and managers who hire the janitorial companies joined negotiations this year as advisors.

"It cut out a lot of consternation," said Alan D. Levy, labor committee chairman for the Building Owners and Managers Assn., who spent the entire night at the table. "BOMA was advising the contractors that, yes, we can live with this. It makes their job of selling it to their customers a lot easier."

Levy said the cost of the deal eventually would be passed on to tenants of the buildings.

Local 1877, which is statewide, now turns its attention to Orange County, where final contract talks are set for today, then to San Diego, where negotiations are planned for early next week.

The toughest bargaining is taking place in Silicon Valley, where about 7,000 janitors are under contract. Health insurance is the dominant issue there as well.

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