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San Diego
Tuesday, Dec 5, 2023

LABOR–Janitors Strike Grows; Union Files More Charges

Contractors Say They Haven’t Been

Affected By the Strike

Union officials representing striking janitors of 21 Downtown buildings plan to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board for what they said are clear violations by cleaning service contractors.

“We already filed seven unfair labor practices against them and will be filing three more today,” said Mike Wilzoch, deputy director for the Service Employees International Union Local 2028 on April 13. “Most of the complaints concern intimidation and threats to workers.”

Wilzoch said several janitors in the affected buildings have been told they will never be able to work again, while others are telling janitors they can still work on their jobs and would pay any fines for crossing the picket lines, which is illegal.

Janitors went on strike April 9 after negotiations between the union and contractors broke down, with each side claiming the other was not bargaining in good faith. The union contract with the building contractors expired March 31.

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Mary Grillo, SEIU’s executive director, said since the strike started, about half of its 275 union janitors have stayed off their jobs, and joined picket lines around the Downtown buildings. The union represents about 1,200 janitors in the county, but more than 800 janitors work in areas outside Downtown and have a separate contract.

Dick Davis, the consultant representing the contractors, said his clients have made no change to their final offer, and haven’t been affected by the strike.

“We’re the ones negotiating. The union is standing still, and we’re cleaning the buildings,” Davis said.

Not A Mess Yet

An employee in one of the affected buildings, the Emerald Plaza at 400 West Broadway, said the building appeared to be getting cleaned, although the picketers were making a lot of noise.

Wilzoch said buildings are being picketed in waves, and that some building’s janitors are all out on strike while other buildings have some union janitors still working in them.

He said as more janitors communicate with each other, the picket lines are growing.

“We’re dug in for the long haul if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Grillo said the issue isn’t whether certain buildings are cleaned or not, but the type of working conditions the janitors have.

The starting salary for janitors is $7.05 hourly but most are provided weekly shifts with less than 40 hours. The janitors’ contract does not include any health insurance benefits.

The contractors’ final offer included a 55-cent per-hour increase in wages over three years: 25 cents the first year, and then two subsequent raises of 15 cents.

The union is seeking a 50 cents an hour increase annually for three years and basic health coverage. Davis said the latter is impossible.

Since the strike began, janitors have been getting support from other unions and tenants in the affected buildings, Grillo said.

“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from tenants,” she said. “What surprised everybody is that no one realized janitors weren’t getting heath insurance or that they were getting paid so poorly. For many of them, about 70 percent of their paychecks goes for rent.”

Grillo said a possible settlement in the Los Angeles janitors strike could have a positive effect on the San Diego negotiations. A coordinated janitors strike in Chicago was also getting publicity as janitors there have begun a hunger strike, she said.


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