Columbus Janitors Could Go On Strike [The Columbus Dispatch]

Dwayne Paige, 44, works full time as a janitor at the Huntington Center. He fears his hours might be reduced, which could cost him his health-care coverage. (Photo by Jabin Botsford)

Hundreds of Columbus janitors are threatening to strike if employers cut large numbers of full-time workers, a move prompted by fears of increased costs under the new federal health-care law.

The main sticking point in negotiations between the janitors’ union and the cleaning contractors is a proposal to slash the number of full-time workers from 70 percent to

15 percent of the workforce, the union said. That would leave hundreds of janitors with fewer hours and without company health insurance, which full-time janitors currently get.

Chicago-based Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents about 1,000 janitors, is bargaining with the Columbus Area Service Contractors Association, which represents seven cleaning companies.

The contractors association is trying to cut back on costs before the health-care law requires certain employers to provide insurance to full-time workers in 2015, the union said. The law will require firms with the equivalent of at least 50 full-time workers to offer health insurance to full-time employees, those who work 30 hours or more a week. Hours worked by part-time employees will also be used to calculate the equivalency.

Some of the cleaning contractors are local companies that might be able to get under the 50-employee threshold by reducing full-time staff, while others are larger, national companies.

They would hire more part-time workers to make up for the decrease in full-time janitors, said union spokeswoman Amanda Hart, allowing them to offer health insurance to fewer employees.

Additionally, monthly premiums for janitors with company health insurance would shoot up from $20 to $100 under the contractors association’s latest proposal, the union said. The contractors also want to freeze wages until 2015, when they’ll phase in a

15-cent per hour increase.

Hart said the cuts could push many janitors into poverty. On average, local full-time janitors make about $18,000 a year, she said.

“Columbus janitors are only attempting to stand up for good jobs that our city desperately needs,” she said.

The association would not comment on its proposals, though it said in a statement that many of the workers have received wage increases of about 18 percent, in addition to paid vacation and holiday-time benefits, during the past two years.

The two sides have been in negotiations since the last contract expired in January, and a meeting in August ended without an agreement. More than 300 janitors signed a petition last month in favor of a strike, but the union is holding on for an agreement, Hart said.

The two sides will go back to the bargaining table this month.

Dwayne Paige is a full-time janitor at the Huntington Center in Downtown, where he works from 5 p.m. to

1:30 a.m. He makes $10 an hour, which comes out to about $18,000 a year, barely enough, Paige said, to support his wife and 16-year-old stepdaughter, who has a learning disability.

Because he can’t afford a car, Paige bikes from his home on the South Side to work. The 44-year-old has diabetes and high blood pressure. Two months ago, he was hospitalized after his blood-sugar level got dangerously high.

The health insurance he gets from his employer, Florida-based CSI International, is vital, Paige said. Losing his company insurance and the possibility of fewer hours scares him.

“I’m fighting not just for me, but for my kid,” he said.

by Oliver Ortega, September 15, 2013.

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