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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Justice for Janitors

This Spring, janitors at UMass Boston and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615 will be negotiating their new contract with One Source, UMass Boston’s cleaning company. I sat down with some of the Janitors that will be affected by this agreement to find out who they are and what changes they would like to see in their new contract.

Kenny Herbert has been an employee at UMass Boston for over 25 years, working through three company changes. An immigrant from Barbados, Kenny first came to the US and settled in Brooklyn 40 years ago. He worked as a security guard before he came to Boston and began janitorial work. Kenny started as a cleaning contractor with a company named Consolidated in 1967 at Northeastern University and continued working for them until they lost their contract with Northeastern and moved to UMass. He first arrived at UMass Boston in 1987.

In addition to his work for Consolidated, he was working part-time for another janitorial contractor named UNICCO. Both companies were unionized and affiliated with the SEIU. Herbert left Consolidated to work full time for UNICCO. It was when he began working for UNICCO that he became involved with the union. He became a shop steward and participated in negotiations for his and his co-workers contracts.

Milton Mejia has been working at UMass for the last 14 years and has worked through all three company changes with Kenny. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Milton first came to the US in 1982 and also settled in New York before moving to Boston. Milton can be seen cleaning the Wheatley building while Kenny can be seen in all smiles at the McCormack.

Kenny, at 74, and Milton, 56, are still at UMass and have been working for One Source, the contractor UMass switched to 8 years ago. They say that One Source is the best contractor they have worked for. Kenny says he is treated well and has very little problems with supervisors. He says of his supervisors, as well as the whole UMass community “they respect me and I respect them, it’s a good place here.” They both feel a lot of support from students and professors; a few years back, when Milton was almost transferred to another worksite, students and professors in the Wheatley building signed a petition which stopped the transfer.

However, Kenny, Milton and their fellow workers would like to address several problems with the contract in the negotiations coming up this spring. Health care, sick days, parking fees, an increase in wages and more benefits are the top issues that the workers would like to see changes in. Currently, workers are only allowed two paid sick days a year, which is much less than most of the other similar jobs in the area. Many of the janitors at UMass feel that is just not enough. Most of the workers have families they are trying to support and would like to see improvements in the current healthcare plan, which doesn’t allow for many options. Parking is another issue because they like the students have been forced to pay a hefty $96 a month parking fee. Workers feel that either the Union or the Contractor should be splitting the cost with them half and half so that it all doesn’t fall onto their shoulders just so they can get to work.

The workers at UMass are only a small portion of the workers covered by this agreement.. How will the citywide contract affect the workers at UMass? I asked Rocio Saenz, President of Local 615, what the union’s citywide goals for the contract are and how those goals differ from their goals at UMass.

“The contract expiring at the end of August covers 10,000 people. Currently we are in the process of distributing surveys to janitors around Massachusetts and Rhode Island, one-on-one surveys, in order to think about what they want to see change, what are the things they would like to see continue to move forward, and ask them to rate their own priorities…healthcare, sick days, steward’s rights, more training opportunities for career advancement, stronger language about safety on the job, shift differential for people that work third shift,” she said.

“There are many, many workers covered by this contract, and we want to try to address as many of these issues as possible,” she continued. “The next piece of the process is providing the results of what people have said and compiling and analyzing what our priorities will be. We realize that none of this could happen without member involvement so we really would like to involve as many people as possible. We want to address as many issues as we can when we go into meetings with employers.”

Rocio claims that because UMass is funded by the state they are unique, and should be the ones setting the standards across the city’s institutions. Currently however, UMass ranks below average in wages and benefits across the city in comparison to other universities like Harvard.

I asked Rocio what words she would give to the workers at UMass, and she responded, “this is our opportunity to make sure that the recognition of the hard work that these workers do everyday, day in and day out–they are always there, and they take a lot of pride in the work that they do–and [that] is recognized not just by saying ‘Hey, good job’, but is recognized and seen by the wages and benefits that they have, so at the end of the day they feel that they are working for an institution that recognizes their needs for the hard work they do.”

Hopefully, with the help of the SEIU, One Source and the whole community at UMass Boston, these workers will be shown how much their hard work really is appreciated after the bargaining session is over and their new contract enables them to continue to dedicate themselves to making UMass the leading institution in providing quality jobs with quality benefits.