ST. LOUIS – Harvard students are touring campuses across the country as part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Justice for Janitors Campaign. Allegra Churchill, a Harvard student, and Frank Morley, a Harvard janitor, spoke at Washington and Webster University April 17 and 18, respectively.

Last April 17, students at Harvard, including Churchill, started a 21-day sit-in on behalf of SEIU Local 254. Harvard, the second wealthiest non-profit institution in the world, paid its janitors “poverty wages,” said Morley.

Between 1994 and 2001 the inflation adjusted-wages of Harvard janitors fell 30 percent and two-thirds of all Harvard janitors could not afford healthcare. Many worked two and three jobs.

In 1998 Harvard refused to adopt a living wage standard similar to that of the city of Cambridge, where Harvard is located.

After the sit-in, things began to change, and in February 2002 Harvard agreed to a new union contract. Janitors at Harvard will receive an “immediate raise” that puts them above the Cambridge living wage; by 2005, they will make $14 an hour. As part of the contract, janitors will also receive full-family paid health insurance and a guarantee from the university that all subcontracted workers will receive equal pay and benefits.

“When enough people get together,” said Morley, “they can do anything.”

Students at Washington and Webster University are helping SEIU Local 50 in their Justice for Janitors Campaign. Local 50 has been negotiating with the Contract Cleaners Association (CCA) since November 16, 2001. CCA, an association of eight cleaning companies, has offered a 25-cent annual wage increase. Local 50, director of organizing Charlie Hatcher, called the offer “chump change.”

Janitors at Washington University are now employed by Spann Cleaners. The President of CCA is also the President of Spann Cleaners. “CCA has been making millions for decades. They don’t want to give up their profits,” said Hatcher.

In 1998 Washington University changed food service companies. Bon Appetit took over for Mariott and, according to Hatcher, “broke every labor law in the book.” That same year Local 50 filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board. They won on every count. But Bon Appetit was “slapped on the wrist,” said Hatcher and “65 percent of the workers had moved on,” in essence breaking the union.

Webster University has agreed that all their janitors will have union representation, but has done little to pressure CCA to pay the janitors a living wage with healthcare.

While speaking at Webster, Churchill said, “the tour is meant to inspire and stimulate similar student and labor alliances. It is amazing,” she continued, “when you get students and labor together.”

Recently Local 50 won a victory a St. Louis University (SLU). Janitors at SLU will receive a 66 percent wage increase in the first year of the new contract and tuition costs for themselves and their families. Local 50 has also signed 13 independent cleaning companies on to the new master agreement.

There are currently over 50 living wage campaigns on campuses across the country. SEIU represents janitors, dietary, clerical and technical workers on nearly 200 campuses.

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