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Longer Labor

A second round of picketing is planned in janitors' dismissal

Though the nine union cleaners fired from Centre City Tower just before New Year's Eve last year are still fighting to get their jobs back, someone else is now taking out the trash.


One of the new cleaning crew, speaking anonymously, says that when he took the job, he had no idea he was walking into a labor dispute. "I feel for the people," he says.


Nine cleaners lost their jobs when Centre City's management, Independence Management Inc., ended the cleaning contract with the janitor's official employer, St. Moritz Building Services. These nine, along with about 800 other Downtown janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 3, had recently won a labor contract that halved the cost of family medical benefits. SEIU alleges that the building's longtime janitorial staff was dismissed in an attempt to remove the union.


"Thankfully, my job is stable," says the new cleaner. Not his job cleaning the Centre City Tower, of course, but his real job, a full-time, skilled position in the public sector. "I'm glad I don't have to make ends meet with this," he adds.


The worker said his 25-hour-per-week job pays minimum wage ($5.15 per hour), without benefits. The previous full-time union jobs paid $9-12 per hour, plus benefits.


The new cleaning company is PF Enterprise of Baden (near Aliquippa). Reached by phone, PF Enterprise Vice President Frank Kratz would only say that there are 12 on the current cleaning crew. Kratz insisted he pays the cleaners more than minimum wage, but wouldn't say how much.


Independence maintains that PF was selected after a bidding process in which St. Moritz also participated.


On Jan. 20, SEIU filed National Labor Relations Board complaints and a federal lawsuit. Though Independence Management has filed an NLRB charge against the union for improper picketing, they have yet to respond to the union's lawsuit.


Also last week, Allegheny County Labor Council president Jack Shea and clergymen Ken Love, Jack O'Malley and Donald Dutton -- who were arrested Jan. 21 for refusing to leave after being denied a meeting with building manager Linda Fryz at Centre City -- had their hearings on Jan. 27. All were sentenced to 35 hours of community service, after which the charges will be dismissed. Sala Udin introduced and Pittsburgh City Council unanimously supported a resolution in support of the union as well last week.


Picketing at Centre City Tower will resume on Feb. 4, culminating in a community meeting at Smithfield Church next door at 8:30 a.m., Feb. 6.

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