Negotiators for the janitors who clean Twin Cities' office buildings, skyways and the international airport have reached a tentative contract agreement that includes a 10 percent raise over three years and the health coverage they threatened to strike for, union leaders announced at a news conference Monday at St. Paul City Hall.
"We took a stand for affordable health care for janitors and our families, and it paid off," said Walter Castellanos, a St. Louis Park janitor and organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26.
Castellanos was joined by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who said the contract is a victory for the local's 4,200 janitors and their families, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who called it "an important step" to universal health care.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Service Contractors Association - the 18-employer group on the other side of the bargaining table, with clients including the Wells Fargo Center, Target headquarters, U.S. Bank and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport - also announced satisfaction with the agreement.
"From the beginning of these negotiations, we've been committed to providing affordable health care and living wages for our employees, and we believe that this tentative agreement achieves this," said Allison Frailich, spokeswoman for the group that includes Marsden Building Maintenance and ABM.
"We are pleased a tentative agreement has been reached," she said.
The janitors had been working without a contract since Dec. 31. On Jan. 13, they authorized their negotiators to call a strike, if talks broke down.
A whirlwind 72 hours
"Two days ago we were painting picket signs and getting ready for a strike," Local 26 President Javier Morillo said Monday. "It's been a whirlwind 72 hours."
The two sides spent the weekend working out their differences, and Local 26's bargaining team has recommended the membership approve the tentative agreement in a vote scheduled for Saturday.
The SEIU had complained that previous health plans were so expensive that their members couldn't afford them, leaving most of them without insurance. Family policies under the old plan could cost as much as $1,800 a month, the union said.
Only half the janitors were eligible for the plans, as full-time employees, the union said. Of those, 43 percent bought it. All but 14 were single coverage.
The tentative agreement calls for employers to offer a limited SEIU-sponsored plan, or its equivalent. SEIU plans contain features including discount cards, some doctors' visits with co-pays, and varying other preventive care. By 2009, employees' monthly premiums will be $20 a month for an individual and $75 for families.
Higher pay, more full-timers
The tentative agreement also provides for a 10 percent raise by 2009 for full-time janitors, up from $11.77 now to $12.97 an hour. It also will shift 200 to 300 jobs from part-time to full-time. Part-timers will see their hourly pay go up from $9.75 now to $11.45 in 2009.
The Twin Cities contract follows other SEIU organizing and negotiating efforts across the country, including most recently a contract for 5,300 janitors in Houston in November that included affordable health coverage and a 126 percent raise over three years.
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