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Janitors: Dirty Deal at CMU

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They scrub toilets just like those everywhere else at Carnegie Mellon University. But as the janitors in CMU's newest Oakland building found out the hard way, they earn about half as much as their counterparts elsewhere on campus.

 

The seven janitors hired by Quality Services Inc. to clean the Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC) make roughly $7.50 an hour. A stone's throw away, CMU's 200 unionized janitors take home more than $13 an hour cleaning other campus buildings.

 

"We're angry and intimidated because [the CIC] is on Carnegie Mellon property," says Evey Adams, a union janitor who works in the dormitories. "How long before CMU will look and say we can have $7 an hour?"

 

Campus janitors alerted their union, Local 3 of the Service Employee International Union, to the wage disparity a few months after CIC opened in 2005. Lately, union organizers have protested the disparity by leafletting in front of the new building. On March 16, Local 3 held a rally to protest what they call poverty wages for the CIC janitors, who also get no health benefits or sick days.

 

"We are doing the same exact work in the CIC building as in other buildings," says Janice Kelly of Clairton, a nonunion janitor who quit working there three weeks ago. She says she didn't make enough money to raise her three sons.

 

University spokeswoman Teresa Sokol Thomas maintains that CIC is not currently owned by Carnegie Mellon, so janitors are not covered by the union contract. CIC's current owner is the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania (RIDC), a nonprofit economic development corporation which is leasing the land from CMU. Bill Burroughs, RIDC's vice president of project development, declined to say how long the lease is good for, saying it is a private business agreement.

 

RIDC received $11.4 million in state and local aid to construct the $28 million building. Perched above Panther Hollow, the facilty houses a host of software-engineering concerns, including Apple Computer, Intel and CMU's own CyLab.

 

"We look at this as a threat, an encroachment on our standards," says Tim Finucan, main organizer for Local 3's Justice for Janitors campaign.

 

The National Labor Relations Board's Kim Siegert, a supervisor attorney for the Pittsburgh area, says the union has a valid concern. If nonunion members are doing the same job on the same campus for less money, she says, that could bring down the "area standard" -- a labor-law term for a market's prevailing wages and benefits. A lower area standard could mean reduced benefits in future contract talks.

 

Currently, CMU's unionized janitors receive health coverage and two weeks of paid vacation. Adams, who has worked on campus for 27 years, remembers struggling without these benefits. In the early 1980s, she says, she had to pay her son's hospital bills by installment because CMU provided no insurance to janitors.

 

"I look down the street, and I think they deserve a fighting chance for what they're going through," says Adams, 49. "I've been where they are."

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