For three years, Local 3 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1,000 Downtown janitors, has worried about the living wage and health-care benefits secured in its last contract. Just a few months after the contract was ratified, one Downtown building, Centre City Tower (which houses City Paper among its 26 floors) dropped its union janitors, and SEIU waged a very public campaign to discourage any other building owner from following suit.
Now SEIU spokesman Tom Hoffman is hailing a new five-year contract -- won on Nov. 3, just days after the old contract expired -- as "continu[ing] the spirit of cooperation we forged three years ago."
Downtown janitors overwhelmingly approved the new deal, which guarantees a 3 percent yearly raise -- up to nearly $15 per hour by 2012.
But the employers' representatives, Central Property Services and Managers Owners and Contractors Association, extracted a compromise on health care. The janitors will have to pay $60 to $300 more a year in premiums for health insurance.
"The health care is really the battle," says Robyn Gray, a 16-year veteran janitor who is the lead shop steward at One Mellon Center and sits on the bargaining committee. "Employers wanted us to pay more."
The employers also promised to increase their contributions toward the janitors' pension fund by 5 cents more for each hour worked.
"I think it's fair. Last time we weren't so lucky to get anything put into our pension," says Gray, who was also involved in negotiating the last contract, which expired Oct. 31.
While Local 3 represents many of those who clean Downtown's commercial high-rises, some workers are still left behind.
Charles Fitzgerald, hired by nonunion contractor PF Enterprise to replace the union janitors at Centre City Tower on Smithfield Street, makes $7 per hour, compared to the $13 union hourly wage. And unlike their union peers, nonunion janitors get no health benefits, pension or vacation time.
"It's just not right," says Fitzgerald, over the slosh of soapy water as he wrung his mop on Nov. 3. "I couldn't make it here" alone. (He is also employed full time as a security guard at the Oliver Building across the street.)
And then there are those scattered across the region's office parks outside Downtown -- in the airport corridor, the North Hills and South Hills. Most work part-time gigs for $6 to $8 per hour, with no benefits. Hoffman says the SEIU has been pushing to organize suburban janitors because the yawning wage gap would make it "hard to maintain the jobs Downtown. It's in everybody's interest to make those jobs good jobs."