Janitors vote to approve new contract, gain heath benefits, hourly salaries

A janitor cleans the first floor bathrooms in West Hall on Nov. 3, 2014. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archive)

Tufts janitors voted in support of a new contract Thursday, with 132 janitors voting in favor and three against, thereby establishing the contract as the official workplace agreement for the next four years, according to 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Regional Communications Director of New England Eugenio Villasante. SEIU, the union representing Tufts janitors, and Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) Services, their employer, came to an agreement on the contract’s terms on Monday, Oct. 31.

The vote to approve the contract took place between Wednesday Nov. 2 and Thursday Nov. 3 with different groups of janitors voting based on when they had availability in their work schedules. Union officials provided janitors with a summary of the contract prior to the vote, Villasante said.

“The ratification process shows that there’s a strong support for the contract,” Villasante said. “It is a strong package [that] aligns [with] what the membership and the union has been seeking, which is improvement in wages, improvement in benefits, secure in health care [and] clarifying health care.”

One janitor, Sandra Ventura, expressed this support, saying that the new contract puts workers in a stronger vis-a-vis with C&W Services.

“I think [our jobs will] change because the new contract has more language than the one we had before and now we can defend ourselves from the company for any reason; it’s clearer,” Ventura said in Spanish, as translated by Daily staff member David Westby.

The new contract gives several victories to the janitors including lower health care costs. Janitors will now be on the same plan as many of SEIU’s East Coast members, Villasante said.

With Tufts janitors now a part of this larger pool, C&W Services will pay less for health care and workers will no longer have to pay the $100 monthly premium to include their spouses and families on their plans, according to Villasante. Furthermore, workers will now have access to designated health clinics without having to pay a co-pay, he said.

One of the janitors’ stated demands was more opportunities for full-time employment. According to the contract summary provided to janitors, the new contract requires C&W Services to hire three full-time employees by July 1.

“It’s essential that we move in that direction [of more full-time work] [because] it provides a level of establishment that part-time doesn’t,” Villasante said.

Ventura said she appreciated that the new contract included guarantees for more personal days. According to the summary, employees will now be entitled to two holidays per year. Janitors will also receive 1.5 times their hourly wages when working on days the university is closed for non-state declared emergency, the summary said.

The contract also guarantees a $1.80 hourly raise by Jan. 1, 2020 — rising 50 to 60 cents each year — and higher pensions, according to the summary. Additionally, C&W Services will allot more money towards English and computing classes for its janitor employees, Villasante said.

Following the negotiation process on Monday, Patrick Collins, executive director of public relations, said the university was satisfied with the tentative agreement.

“We’re thankful that C&W and the Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, have reached a tentative agreement on a contract that is fair for all parties,” he told the Daily in an email. “As always, we value C&W janitors’ contributions to our community, and we look forward to their continued presence on our campus.”

Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) member Nicole Joseph said that those involved with TLC were excited about what she described as a “great contract.” However, she said that TLC will continue to fight to ensure janitors have a fair workload, as the contract did not address this.

“There’s not a way to get concrete language around it [workload],” Joseph, a junior, said. “It’s something that maybe could be worked out outside of a contract. There’s too high of a workload and that janitors can’t clean to the standard they’re expected to.”

Joseph said that while the contract looks promising, it is too soon to tell how well it can protect workers’ rights in practice.

“We fight for new language [in contract negotiations] and over the course of the contract you see it goes. There’s nothing we know for sure will be the best thing and we think this is the best right now,” she said.

Ventura also hopes that the contract will improve the workplace, especially in terms of how workers are treated.

“That’s the hope we the workers have, that in the future they’ll respect us more, especially the managers and supervisors. That they’ll see us like people, like humans, not like animals,” she said.