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Four-Week Janitorial Strike Ends

By Brian Loux

NEWS EDITOR

An agreement late Wednesday night ended the four-week strike by Boston janitors, effectively canceling plans for city-wide acts of civil disobedience planned for yesterday. MIT students expected to join with around 2,000 striking workers and other community members to push for higher wages and health care coverage for part-time janitors.

Co-coordinator for MIT’s student campaign for janitors Shefali B. Oza ’04 called the resolution a “great victory.”

Service Employees International Union spokesperson Sylvia Panfil said the agreement guarantees part-time workers “two sick days, employer-paid health coverage, English classes for immigrant workers to be managed by the union, and higher wages.”

The strike began in late September when the SEIU Local 254 and the contracting companies UNICCO and Janitronics could not resolve issues over health care for part-time employees and other issues. Employees of MIT-owned University Park and Technology Square developments, employed by UNICCO, also took part in the strike.

The deadlocked issue began to show signs of remedy this Monday when Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino brought in the two parties to resume talks and appointed chief operating officer of Partners HealthCare Thomas Glynn as mediator. Menino mentioned that an agreement was close to being reached at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

A statement issued by the Maintenance Contractors of New England, representing the contracting parties, reads, “This is a settlement that is right for the industry and shows our commitment to being responsible corporate citizens. We are especially pleased that we were able to reach this agreement without the need to lay off any of our part-time employees, many of whom have been with us for more than 20 years.”

The custodial workers will return to work this Monday.

Organizers stop ‘day of chaos’

The prospective protests for Thursday turned to festivities among janitorial activists.

Russel Davis, a spokesperson for Jobs With Justice, said that the day was “a huge victory, in particular for immigrant population and for people believing they have the ability to fight for justice.”

Davis said that the protestors planned to focus on Boston’s financial district. “We planned to protest in the streets and blockade buildings of property owners [who contract the janitors] in a non-violent way,” Davis said.

Stephanie W. Wang ’04, a representative of the Student Labor Action Program, mentioned in an e-mail that Thursday was planned to be a “day of chaos” but instead will be a “day of celebration.” Wang was unavailable for comment.

Oza said that for Thursday, they had planned a multitude of events throughout the day, but believed the slogan “day of chaos” was a title taken from non-MIT-affiliated sources involved with the protest. Oza was not involved with planning for Thursday.

Davis mentioned that Jobs With Justice planned next Tuesday to be a day of student led protests, with one of the focal points being the MIT campus. “MIT, as property owners, did not support the janitors during the strike,” he said. “We were pretty disappointed with the MIT administration.”

Oza was uncertain about what events at MIT were planned for the coming Tuesday.

Activists credit community

Leaders of the strike thanked the efforts of the community for contributing to the success of the strike.

“Students as usual helped in this victory,” Davis said. “They played an important role in our campaign.”

Panfil agreed, saying that the turnout “showed that immigrant workers have a lot of support and a significant voice, which is quite an accomplishment.”

Oza said that the event was more of a “community thing” and not a student-led activity.

In addition to the community, Panfil credited the large number of political leaders that turned out in support of the janitors, including senators Theodore R. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). “Mayor Menino was also helpful throughout the campaign,” she said. “He played a critical role in it.”

The joint statement of maintenance contractors also credited Menino for his work on the resolution.

During the strike, a significant number of labor and immigrants’ rights groups as well as religious organizations came out in support of the janitors.

Panfil said the resulting agreement was not completely satisfactory. “Like all compromises, we would have liked more,” she said, mentioning health coverage for more workers to be one of the key concerns. “This was the effort of a new local [chapter] with new leadership, but this agreement is a good beginning.”