"It's one of the best agreements we've gotten in 20 years in this town," says Tom Hoffman of a three-year contract secured Nov. 1 for Downtown's 750 janitors. Hoffman, spokesman for Service Employees International Union, which represents local janitors, says the contract makes "huge strides" in reducing employee health care costs, upping wages and equalizing the pay among janitors in different buildings.
Janitors who once paid $470 a month for family health insurance will now pay only $200 a month, Hoffman reports; coverage of single employees will be free. With double-digit inflation in health care costs year after year in this decade, it's a crucial benefit to secure, he adds.
Janitors' wages will increase 40 cents an hour each year of the three-year contract, rising, for employees with three years or more seniority, from $11.72 to $12.92 an hour by the time the agreement ends. "These are the largest wages we've gotten in memory," he says. Under the old agreement, which expired Oct. 31, janitors in the city's newest buildings had to wait seven years to reach the highest wages; janitors in the majority of Downtown's buildings took only three years to gain the largest paycheck. Now everyone has only a three-year wait, representing a $5 an hour increase for some workers.
How did the union secure such a contract? "This is a real crisis for janitors and the country," he says of the group's No. 1 issue -- health care costs that had put family insurance out of reach. "Building owners all came together," Hoffman says, adding: "The members stuck together."