By Paxtyn Merten, news correspondent
Janitors in the Greater Boston Area voted to approve a contract negotiated by their union that will raise wages, expand full-time employment opportunities and provide employer-paid family health care to workers and their families.
The four-year contract was agreed upon by bargainers of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Maintenance Contractors of New England (MCNE) on Sept. 30, the same day the union planned to strike if an agreement wasn’t reached. 32BJ represents more than 13,000 janitors in the Boston area, including those who work at Northeastern.
“To me, [the contract] is something very good,” Juan Ramon Santana Samérde, a 32BJ bargaining committee member and Northeastern janitor, said in an interview translated from Spanish. “We didn’t get everything we wanted […] but it’s good because we have four more years to keep working and hopefully enhance our contract in the next negotiations.”
Union members voted between Thursday and Saturday at 10 different locations including Boston, Worcester and Lawrence. An overwhelming majority of janitors who voted on the contract decided to approve it.
“[The majority vote] is a sign that there is very strong support for what [the contract] is, a very strong and historic agreement,” 32BJ SEIU spokesperson Eugenio Villasante said.
Different aspects of the contract will go into effect at various times over the next four years, according to a summary of the agreement that Villasante provided to The News.
Wages for city janitors will increase by 12 percent each year over the next four years, meaning they will earn $20 an hour by 2020. Janitors in the suburbs will see wage increases that range between 11.7 and 13 percent per year.
Full-time positions will increase in Boston buildings larger than 400,000 square feet and in Cambridge buildings larger than 300,000 square feet. All newly constructed buildings above these sizes now guarantee full-time jobs.
“We have been able to expand full-time employees in what was previously a part-time industry,” Villasante said. “We have been able to move in the right direction.”
Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, the employer-paid health care plan will expand to workers’ families at no extra cost, eliminating the monthly $281 premium required by the previous contract.
“Both sides got what they wanted in terms of the economic package, health care, wages and full-time job conversions – all these things,” MCNE spokesperson Matt Ellis said in an interview last Sunday.
Still, there were several Northeastern janitors who told The News last week they were not happy with elements of the contract, including the pay raises which they claimed aren’t enough to keep up with rising costs of living.
“There’s always people that want something more, but majority wins in negotiations,” Santana Samérde said.
The contract also ensures that janitors will be eligible for free legal services to deal with immigration issues, family law, bankruptcy and some civil and criminal cases. This service will go into effect beginning July 2017.
The agreement further secures more funding for janitors’ pensions and training funds, which include English classes, computer lessons and classes in other skills.
“Workers have been looking for a deal that will open the gates to the middle class,” Villasante said. “That was our goal, and that is where we got with this agreement.”
Alejandro Serrano contributed to this report.
Translations by Alejandro Serrano.
Photo by Scotty Schenck