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Building Distrust

Union janitors believe less pay for cleaning newer buildings is dirty pool

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During a morning rush-hour march and rally Sept. 26, roughly 250 participants in the Justice for Janitors campaign paused to shout slogans and beat makeshift drums at three buildings where they are treated differently than they are at most of the others they clean Downtown. That's because cleaning contractors pay union janitors at the new Mellon Client Service Center, the new PNC Firstside Center, and the newly renovated Family Court building (formerly the county jail) about a third less than they pay union janitors elsewhere Downtown.

Janitorial pay is on the front burner for Service Employees International Union Division 29 because contracts for about 1,000 Downtown janitors expire Oct. 31. About half of the janitors work for Central Property Services, the Downtown-based contractor that employs janitors at the Mellon Client Center and PNC Firstside; other contractors include St. Moritz Building Services, which cleans Family Court.

Janitors at those three buildings start at about $8 an hour, compared to about $9 an hour for janitors at most other SEIU-organized buildings Downtown; moreover, they must be on the job seven years to reach the top hourly pay rate of $11.72, versus three years for janitors at more than 60 other Downtown sites, including many who work for the same companies. (A phone message seeking comment from CPS was not returned.) SEIU is seeking equity, in particular because the pay issue feeds into the contract campaign's biggest issue: affordable health care, something that's out of the grasp of even many of its best-paid janitors. Ten years ago, says SEIU spokesman Tom Hoffman, most Downtown janitors could afford health care; today only 1 in 10 can. In new contracts, SEIU wants employers to shoulder a higher share of monthly health-insurance premiums.

"We know we're not the only ones getting killed on [health care]," says Hoffman. "We sort of see this as not just the janitor's fight. We see it as the Pittsburgh community's fight."

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