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Puget Sound-area janitors authorize strike

The following was distributed Saturday by SEIU Local 6:

SEATTLE (June 23) — Janitors who work in Bellevue, Redmond, Tacoma, Seattle and at SeaTac Airport, traveled through bridge closures, pouring rain, and today’s maze of traffic to attend a union meeting to discuss and act on an appalling proposal from janitorial employers.

More than 300 janitors, members of SEIU Local 6, heard reports from members of their contract bargaining team who called for support of negotiations by mobilizing their coworkers in preparation of a possible strike.

They presented a report on the current economics of the commercial building industry that shows Seattle is one of top commercial real estate markets in the country. Reasons include falling vacancy rates, increased demand for office space that has resulted in higher rents. Despite cleaning and maintaining these valuable assets for the commercial building industry, janitorial employers offered dramatic cuts to their medical benefits.

Members gave passionate and personal testimony on the importance of health care. Dora Ortiz, a Seattle janitor, is the sole breadwinner in her family. Her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and has endured five operations. A stroke paralyzed half of his body nearly two years ago. In addition to caring for her husband, and treating her own diabetes, Dora performs physical and strenuous work cleaning office buildings.

“I am not afraid of hard work, or working until the early morning,” said Ortiz. “I’m worried, scared, I can’t sleep when I think about losing medical benefits for my husband. He needs them to live.”

Owners of area janitorial companies stunned Puget Sound area janitors on Friday, with a proposal that included extreme changes to their current medical benefits. The entire employer proposed package is the equivalent of a 13% reduction in their wages over the next five years. The companies’ proposal is a stark contrast to the janitor’s — which included maintaining health care benefits and wages that kept up with inflation.

Today more than 300 janitors voted to authorize their bargaining team to call strike if employers continued to bargain for dangerous cuts to medical benefits. Janitors have been in negotiations since May 8. Their current contract expires on June 30, 2012.

A strike by janitors who clean building throughout the Puget Sound would impact thousands of office workers, merchants, transportation and restaurant workers, in addition to area janitors and their families. The authorization is a legal formality before striking.


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