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Janitors' Health Costs Covered -- For Now

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Two months of demonstrations by union members protesting big jumps in health-care costs at the University of Pittsburgh ("Janitors Still Sweeping Through Downtown," June 18) ended with a sort of compromise: Pitt's employee health plan won't be any cheaper, but janitors, groundskeepers and maintenance workers in Local 585 of the Service Employees International Union there are getting raises that for many will cover most of the higher cost -- at least for the immediate future.

The workers, whose protests included a street-blocking (but peaceful) May 31 sit-down strike Downtown, ending in 17 arrests, will get a 3.5 percent raise this year, plus raises of 2.5 percent and 3 percent in the following two years. For the average Pitt janitor, making about $12 an hour, this year's raise will mean an extra 42 cents hourly -- enough to cover most of the $82 monthly difference in premiums between the most popular family-coverage option offer by UPMC Health Plan previously and its new equivalent, which took effect July 1. Pitt said the increases in premiums and co-pays were made inevitable by rising health-care costs.

SEIU spokesman Tom Hoffman said the pay hike was among the largest for the union's Pitt workers in the past decade. But he noted that the wage increase hardly rules out another big jump in health-care rates next year. "It's not the best solution in the world," says Hoffman, noting also that health coverage will likely be an issue in upcoming contract talks for SEIU's Downtown janitors. "The fight on health insurance rates goes on."

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