ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Representing 3,000 janitors in the area, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 50 held a press conference here Feb. 26 to announce an “historic” agreement with 10 independent cleaning companies.

The local hopes that the example set by the 10 companies will convince the Contract Cleaners Association (CCA), an association of eight companies, to do “what is right.” The union has been in negotiation with CCA since Nov. 16, 2001.

The new contract covering “several hundred” St. Louis janitors will raise the contract minimum from $5.25 to $7.25 in the first year and $7.95 in the second year. Local 50 President Donald Rudd said, “no janitor will get less than a 75 cent increase in the first year [and] 70 cents in the second year.”

In addition to wage increases, employer-paid medical health insurance contributions will increase by 500 percent. Currently there is a health care crisis for the uninsured and the underinsured in St. Louis, especially in the African-American community. African Americans comprise 85 percent of the 8,000 janitors in the St. Louis area.

Employer pension contributions will increase to 20 cents an hour, up from 8 cents an hour. Janitors will also receive paid bereavement leave; Martin Luther King Holiday, short staffing bonuses and an employer-paid training fund.

The union is demanding a $1 an hour annual increase, a comprehensive employer-paid health care plan, a paid holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and an increased pension plan in its negotiations with CCA.

Rev. Ken McCoy, executive director of St. Louis ACORN, said, “The issue is clear. If you work hard you should be rewarded. We are asking for what is right, for what is fair!”

While CCA refuses to do “what is right,” political, religious, community, labor and student organizations continue to rally behind the janitors.

At a March 9 meeting of 400 Local 50 members, Charlie Hatcher, organizing director of Local 50, said, “we are for real now. We are going to take it to the streets. We are going to make the big boys pay.”

At that meeting, Rudd outlined the victories so far, including that of the janitors at St. Louis University, where the new contract gives janitors a 66 percent wage increase in the first year and coverage of tuition costs for janitors and their families.

Students at Washington and Webster Universities are beginning to hold forums and circulate petitions in support of the janitors at their campuses.

State Representative John Bowman, a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and a 25-year member of the United Auto Workers, said CCA has a “total disregard for human rights, workers rights.”

Hatcher closed the March 9 meeting by saying, “We want St. Louis to know that Local 50 is taking it to the streets. We are not going to take it anymore.”