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Janitors, contractors reach accord

The tentative pact would help bridge a wage gap among L.A. County custodians.

May 13, 2008|Andrea Chang | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County janitors would receive raises averaging more than $1,000 a year for four years and expanded benefits under a tentative labor agreement reached Monday with cleaning contractors and building owners.

The average annual salary for a janitor working in an office building in downtown Los Angeles would be $29,328 in 2012, an almost 18% increase from the current $24,960.

"As a result of this deal, thousands of hardworking janitors and their families will enjoy improved wages and maintain quality healthcare, while building owners and contractors will enjoy lower turnover and higher quality services," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who joined janitors, union leaders and building owners at City Hall to announce the deal, reached after a weekend of round-the-clock negotiations.

Service Employees International Union Local 1877, which represents about 20,000 janitors around the state, called a labor action last week that involved walkouts, marches and protest videos on YouTube. The mayor brokered a cooling-off period Thursday.

The union next turns to Orange County, where a separate agreement must be reached before a joint contract can go to a vote by the union membership. Contract talks in Orange County, where janitors voted May 3 to authorize a strike, are scheduled to resume Wednesday.

It would be the first time that janitors in both counties would operate under the same contract, said Mike Garcia, president of Local 1877. About 8,000 janitors are represented by Local 1877 in the two-county region; 6,700 would be covered under the proposed contract.

Negotiations between the L.A. County janitors and cleaning contractors broke down Wednesday, a week after the previous contract, negotiated in 2003, expired. Within hours, union members authorized a strike and began staging walkouts at about 40 buildings across the county.

On Thursday, Villaraigosa called a meeting between janitors and key building owners to encourage them to return to the bargaining table. Although the contract negotiations technically were between the janitors and the cleaning companies, building owners hold significant leverage.

The union was seeking unspecified wage increases, but its main goal was to narrow the gap between janitors with the highest and lowest pay. Janitors in downtown Los Angeles and Century City earn $1.30 an hour more, on average, than those in areas such as the Westside, Glendale and Pasadena, Garcia said.

Under the proposed contract, janitors working outside downtown and Century City would earn an average $26,728 in 2012, a 20% increase from the current $22,256. All janitors would also receive vision coverage and paid bereavement leave.

On Monday, Garcia said the wage-gap issue was "our toughest nut to crack."

"We were able to bridge it, to make a dent in it," he said. The total package, including benefits, would amount to an increase of $3.61 an hour for downtown and Century City janitors and $3.51 an hour for janitors in outlying areas.

Last week, the cleaning companies had offered total increases of $3.55 and $3.35 an hour for those areas, respectively, which the union refused.

"We are very pleased to conclude this agreement -- one in the mutual best interest of employees, contractors, building owners and managers," said Dick Davis, the chief negotiator for the contractors. "This historic package of wage and benefit improvements . . . represents a 'win-win' agreement for workers and customers."

At the mayor's briefing Monday, about 25 union members clad in purple shirts cheered the end of the strike.

"We thought we were going to have to continue fighting and go out on strike again," said Rosa Ayala, a janitor at an office building downtown. "Now I feel relieved and happy that I'm not going to lose money and time -- I can get back to work."

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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