Northern California Safeway Janitors Ratify New Union Contract

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Northern California Safeway Janitors Ratify New Union Contract

Janitors who clean northern California Safeway supermarkets this weekend voted to ratify a tentative collective bargaining agreement with Safeway janitorial services contractors ABM, Crystal, Premier, and AMS.

The agreement maintains vital health care and pension benefits, and raises the base wage rate for experienced workers to $14.05 per hour, above industry standards, according to the janitors.

“We were finally able to reach an agreement with Safeway’s contractors that will protect our quality jobs and keep our communities healthy,” said Zenon Angeles, a supermarket janitor and member of the SEIU Local 1877 executive board. “By coming together as a union, we were able to win a strong contract that will boost our wages, maintain our health care coverage and pension, and safeguard our safety and health.”

Negotiations between SEIU United Service Workers West, Local 1877, the labor union of more than 450 janitors who clean northern California Safeway supermarkets, and Safeway’s janitorial services contractors had been ongoing since September 2009.

However, an agreement had not yet been reached by February, and a vote on whether to authorize an unfair labor practice strike over the Safeway’s contractors’ intimidation of workers was originally scheduled for Feb. 20, but was called off when a tentative agreement was reached late Friday, Feb. 19. Instead, a quorum of janitors met to review the tentative agreement, and the overwhelming majority voted to ratify the agreement.

The new collective bargaining agreement will substantially improve janitors’ wages and maintain or strengthen standards for health, retirement and other benefits. The agreement includes provisions to increase wages by between 40 and 65 cents each year until 2012, bringing the base wage rate for experienced janitors up to $14.05 per hour — significantly higher than the current average wage of just $10.24 per hour.

The contract also provides for adequate health care benefits for janitors and their families, and maintains the janitors’ pension fund in its current form, with employers contributing between 30 and 50 cents to the retirement fund, per hour worked.

Although Safeway’s contractors didn’t accept union proposals for “Green Cleaning” standards including nontoxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products, the union said the new agreement makes important progress toward remedying unsafe and unhealthy conditions in the stores. The agreement will implement a joint labor-management solution to health and safety problems, so that janitors can raise issues such as a lack of safety training in regularly held labor-management meetings.

Also under the new agreement, Safeway’s contractors agreed to provide information to the union regarding the health effects of the chemicals and cleaning products used in the stores, provide necessary safety equipment as required by law, and work with Safeway to quickly replace malfunctioning janitorial equipment. The agreement further includes a provision to establish a streamlined, efficient process for injured janitors to file workers’ compensation claims, which will reduce overall costs for workers compensation.

“It’s a major positive that janitors will now be able to use the labor-management partnership process to resolve health and safety issues,” said Neri Macuixtle, a janitor and member of the bargaining committee. “We will also continue calling on both Safeway and the contractors to support sustainable practices in the workplace, and continue to push for stronger Green Cleaning standards in the future.”

The new union contract remain in effect until Oct. 31, 2012. The janitors’ last collective bargaining agreement expired on Oct. 31, 2009.

Overall, the ratified agreement represents a significant protection of janitors’ benefits. According to the janitor’s union, the Safeway’s contractors’ initial proposals to eliminate dental care benefits, sharply increase the number of hours of work necessary to be eligible for health care coverage, eliminate family health care coverage for newly hired janitors, unilaterally take janitors out of their pension plan, freeze wages for one year, and offer lower starting pay for newly hired janitors were dropped, as the union and Safeway’s contractors moved toward a tentative agreement.

The new agreement also includes provisions to maintain benefits for paid vacation, sick, funeral and jury-duty leave; expand other types of unpaid leave; strengthen seniority protections and rights; and improve rights for worker retention during changes between janitorial contractors. The agreement also establishes employer contributions to a training fund for janitors, and maintains contributions for the industry-investigation fund.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 is part of SEIU United Service Workers West, representing more than 40,000 janitors, security officers, airport service workers and other property service workers across California.