Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Looking At Cincy Justice for Janitors 'Victory'

I've been neglecting this blog for a while, concentrating on the kclabor.org web site, our Week In Review column, and groundwork on the upcoming Labor & Sustainability Conference. But I can't resist a timely comment on the latest SEIU victory.

The Cincinnati Post reports that the new janitors contract "was negotiated in a fairly amicable way." The results seem to justify employer acceptance.

Currently the minimum pay is 6.85. The first raise on October 1 will take them up to 7.05. Back-loaded incremental raises will eventually reach 9.80--January 1, 2012.

SEIU's press release proclaimed the "historic" agreement "will more than double the income of nearly 1200 janitors." This is based on a lengthening of the work day--in three years--from four to seven hours. Actually most of these janitors now work two part-time four hour shifts. Going to one seven hour shift, while being more convenient, would lower income.

The janitors do win, for the first time, health care partially subsidized by the employer. But this coverage will not be available until January 1, 2010. Single coverage will cost the worker 20 dollars a month; family coverage 198--a hefty chunk out of about 1200 a month gross pay.

Cincy janitors also get paid time off for the first time--six paid holidays a year.

Are these workers better off with the SEIU contract? Certainly. Is it a "historic" agreement? Hardly. These union members are still among the working poor.

They now have a union, and that's a good thing. But it's a top down union, willing to settle for the very lowest hanging fruit. To break out of working poverty they will have to transform this union into a fighting adversarial organization--not one that amicably accepts that their labor is of little value.