Following a rally earlier today, janitors with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have voted to strike if they fail to reach a contract agreement with local office buildings.
"We're here to lift our employees up. We're bargaining for 1200 people here in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas," says Paul Griffin, a janitor at One PNC Plaza. "Whenever you raise people's standard of living, their communities benefit. I'm so proud to belong to a union that recognizes that connection that good jobs build strong communities."
According to SEIU, 250 of the 1200 members locally voted today to strike if contract negotiations between SEIU and Managers, Owners and Contractors Association (MOCA) aren't resolved. MOCA is a group that negotiates collective bargaining agreements on behalf of local buildings like U.S. Steel Tower, Gateway Center, PNC Plaza and Bayer headquarters.
Griffin, a McKeesport resident who has worked as a janitor for 29 years, says the union is looking for "an agreement that contains a decent wage increase, affordable healthcare and other fringe benefits that would add to their quality of life, like vacation days." The current contract expires at midnight on Saturday, Oct. 31.
"The one thing that struck me about this counter proposal is you have very low potential pay increases and they're asking us to pay more for healthcare," says Griffin. "When you combine the two, we're going backwards in a serious way."
According to SEIU, citing a report from MIT
, downtown office cleaners earn $16 an hour on average. In surrounding areas, they earn on average $11.25 an hour. The living wage for one adult supporting one child in Pittsburgh is $21.07 an hour.
"I've seen what taking good jobs out of the community can do to families," Griffin says. "When you bargain for family sustaining jobs, it's good all the way around. We're looking for a family-friendly contract."
Even if an agreement isn't reached by Oct. 31, Griffin and SEIU communications specialist Traci Benjamin say today's vote does not guarantee a strike will start on Nov. 1.
"The vote today gives Paul and the other members of the bargaining committee the right to say when the strike would be," says Benjamin. "It gives them the authority to call for a strike."
And a strike would be detrimental to not only the employees who would lose wages, but the employees of local office buildings and the local economy as a whole, Griffin says. He cited a 1985 strike by Pittsburgh janitors that he believes played a role in securing worker's rights today.
"Today we're standing on the work they did," says Griffin. "We're trying to address the needs of employees that are presently in this industry, and we're looking to sustain this industry for the future. I want this to be an industry where young people can get jobs in the future."