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Suburban janitors hope to clean up under union representation

Janitors cleaning the suburban office buildings may soon see a pay raise, much like their Downtown cohorts doing the same job.

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Janitors cleaning suburban office buildings may soon see a pay raise, much like their Downtown cohorts doing the same job.

A yearlong organizing effort by Service Employees International Union Local 3 (SEIU) has resulted in an agreement with cleaning companies who provide services to nearly 80 percent of the commercial office space outside Downtown and Oakland. With this agreement, the suburban janitors will sit down at the negotiation table June 27 to start hammering out their first-ever union contract.

"I never thought I'd be joining the union in my lifetime; I'm ecstatic," says Robert Geisler, who cleans the PPG research plant in Monroeville. "I want to start getting raises again." Geisler is a member of the bargaining committee that represents some 600 janitors, many of whom work in Green Tree and around the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Geisler, 56, says that while working non-union jobs for the past 22 years, he's received only four raises, the last of which came nearly four years ago. With a union contract, he hopes that there would be no more broken promises from employers and that he can better support his family of three.

In addition to raises, the janitors are also seeking paid sick and vacation days, as well as other benefits. But the top priority is the wage gap.

Geisler now makes $8.45 per hour, a substantially higher wage than other suburban janitors, but a far cry from the average wage for the unionized Downtown janitor, which tops $13. The Downtown janitors have been able to earn more since they became unionized in 2003.

"People are very concerned about wages," says Tim Finucan the Local 3 organizer

overseeing the suburban campaign. "These people are starting so far back. With the first-time contract [we hope] they can start catching up."

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