BOSTON – Striking janitors went back to work after reaching an interim agreement with the Maintenance Contractors of New England, an association of 30 cleaning companies in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Local 615/254 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the mostly Latino workforce, called the strike just over three weeks ago after months of negotiations.

The interim agreement would give another 1,000 part-time janitors health insurance. All of the cleaning workers, both full and part-time, would get increases of 6 percent for each year of the five-year labor agreement. This would give the part-time janitors, who comprise about 75 percent of the total workforce, $66 more weekly at the end of five years. Part-time janitors currently get under $40 a day.

The interim agreement, which was mediated by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, was reached a day before mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience were to take place in solidarity with the janitors.

On Oct. 19, janitors held a mass rally and march. Labor, immigrant, student, clergy organizations and others were there to express their solidarity. The demonstration, organized by Jobs with Justice (JwJ) and SEIU, heard from speakers representing different sections of the community.

State Representative Jarrett Barrios reminded the crowd that janitors “are only fighting for the same things your grandparents fought for – The American Dream.” Barrios is running for the state Senate and is virtually assured of winning his heavily Democratic district.

Rocío Sáenz, deputy trustee of Local 615/254, said that her local’s members “fight for good jobs here in Boston” and praised the companies that had broken with the Maintenance Contractors of New England to sign interim agreements with the union.

Félix Arroyo told the World, “it is the duty of our community to support our brothers and sisters because they are in a struggle for justice and respect. Our workers deserve our respect. What they are doing takes bravery and sacrifice.” Arroyo will become the first Puerto Rican member of the Boston City Council next January.

Tito Landaverde, a striking janitor, told the World that he came to the United States from El Salvador two years ago to escape poverty. He said that while he makes as much money here in a week as he did in a month in El Salvador, he is still living in poverty. “There is too much injustice by the cleaning contractors,” he said.

Mark Fernald, Democratic candidate for governor of New Hampshire, came with members of the State Employee’s Association Local 1984 SEIU. Fernald told this reporter, “We are here to help those who are fighting in Massachusetts” for health insurance. He said health care was an issue that was being fought all over the country as well as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

After the rally at Copley Square the demonstration marched through the Newberry Street upscale boutique shopping area and headed to the Prudential Center. About half of the block-long march continued through the food court at the Prudential Center before police, some in riot gear, cordoned off the area.

The union went back to the bargaining table after the Maintenance Contractors of New England offered to pay half the cost of health insurance for janitors working 25 hours a week. Jill Hurst, chief negotiator for the SEIU local, told the press that they knew that janitors working part-time could not afford even half the cost of the health insurance.

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

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