MILWAUKEE – Milwaukee’s 500 downtown janitors, represented by Service Employees International Union – Local 1, have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with the companies that clean Milwaukee’s major commercial office buildings.
The new contract maintains wages for janitors while preserving a modest health insurance package, and comes at a critical time for Milwaukee’s unionized janitors. First, the tentative agreement came just hours before the contract was set to expire July 31.
“Protecting the health insurance was the most important thing for us, and we’re satisfied that we were able to do that in this agreement,” said union leader Maria Sada, a janitor at Federal Plaza and a member of the contract bargaining team. “Had we failed, the next stop for members was BadgerCare and that’s not really an option in this state right now.”
The tentative agreement also arrived while the janitors are pitched in a heated to battle against poverty-wage, nonunion cleaning companies and the irresponsible building owners – such as Hispanic Chamber of Commerce member Stewart Wangard of Wangard Partners – bringing them into the downtown market.
Sada and other janitors have been protesting at Wangard’s downtown building, the Roundy’s headquarters at 875 East Wisconsin Ave., since December when building managers displaced 12 janitors, many of whom had cleaned the building since it opened ten years ago. They were replaced by janitors making poverty wages with no access to affordable health insurance.
The union janitors, many with children, lost their health insurance and were forced to seek care at public health clinics or through the state’s BadgerCare program. Under Gov. Scott Walker, however, the doors to BadgerCare coverage have all but slammed shut.
After months of protest and a County Board vote to delay a Park East apartment development proposed by Wangard, janitors worked toward a settlement with Wangard – but that was dashed when Wangard went the opposite direction and hired notorious anti-union CleanPower to clean 875 East.
CleanPower in the 1990s fought for years against janitors’ efforts to lift wages and establish affordable health insurance, before finally exiting the downtown cleaning market. They’re now back downtown as the economy struggles toward recovery – at Wangard’s building, the M & I Bank tower (770 N. Water St.) and the Chamber of Commerce, a smaller office building at 756 N. Milwaukee Street.
“If CleanPower stays non-union, our future is down the drain,” Sada said. “We’ll lose everything – fair wages, full-time work and the health insurance, everything we fought for all these years. But we’ll keep fighting, and we’re determined.
“We can’t afford to lose good jobs in Milwaukee, not now, not anytime,” she added. “Support for Local 1 janitors is support of good jobs in Milwaukee.”
The tentative agreement preserves janitors’ employer-paid health care for the next 16 months and contains a wage re-opener in Nov. 2013 to discuss health insurance issues.
The full union membership reconvenes this Saturday, Aug. 4, to vote on whether or not to ratify the new agreement, which remains tentative until approved.
Bargaining for the employers were American Building Maintenance (ABM), Modern Maintenance, Performance Clean, Regency Janitorial and Somers Building Maintenance (SBM). Other employer signatories to the tentative agreement include Harvard Maintenance and LBR Janitorial.