CHICAGO — School District U46’s night custodians, hoping to get higher pay and some paid days off from the private contractor who employs them, are continuing to apply pressure against the U46 school board.
As the Illinois Association of School Boards held its annual meeting in a Chicago hotel Friday, about five of the U46 workers joined about 30 custodians from the Service Employees International Union who work for school districts in Wheaton and Rockford. They held signs with messages such as “U46 teachers got raises. What about me?”
The 172 night custodians work for GCA Service Group of Knoxville, Tenn. Their contract expired in June and they finally agreed to a one-year extension that gave them no pay raise and no insurance or paid days off. Several members have spoken to the U46 Board of Education in recent weeks, asking board members to apply pressure on GCA to give them a better deal.
Hugo Barrientos, who works at Kimball Middle School, said he was on the picket line Friday.
“We haven’t had a raise in four years, and that raise was 10 cents an hour,” Barrientos said. “I was making $10.70 before that and now for four years I have been making $10.80. Last week I was so sick, I had to call my supervisor and say I couldn’t make it to work that day. I lost one day’s pay because we get no paid sick days.”
“Thanksgiving should be a happy time, not a time to worry about a smaller paycheck,” said Shana Spearman, a custodian in Rockford Public Schools District 205 who also was on the picket line. “Working full-time without a single paid sick day or holiday isn’t right.”
Lonnell Saffold, a director with SEIU Local 1, said it is within the school boards’ power to dictate wage and benefit standards to the cleaning contractors they hire.
“There is still time for you to ensure that the men and women who keep your schools clean and healthy—many of whom are parents of U46 children—are treated fairly,” Saffold wrote in a letter to U46 board members last week. “At a time when infectious disease outbreaks in schools are rampant, supporting paid sick time is not only an issue of respect, it is a serious safety issue.”
“The national trend of outsourcing janitorial work in public schools should not result in a race to the bottom,” Saffold said. “Instead of inflicting poverty jobs on workers and their families, public school districts should be providing good jobs that build strong communities.”
But during a U46 board meeting last month, most board members and district officials seemed reluctant to intervene in the dispute. Chief Operating Officer Jeff King said the district rehired GCA to do the work under a new contract just last spring, and that contract lasts through 2019.
King said the contract specifies that the company must pay at least a certain minimum wage to its workers, based on four levels of duties and experience, but requires no benefits.
“We don’t get involved in negotiations between a contractor and its employees,” King said in answer to questions that night from board member Veronica Noland. He said it’s up to a contractor like GCA to say, “This is what we pay,” and in letting such a contract, the school district usually is obligated to pick the lowest bidder.
Noland said at that meeting that she wonders why the district can’t just use its own employees.
“There are cost efficiencies involved,” King said.
***Advisory for Friday, November 21***
CHICAGO— On Friday, November 21 at 10:30 a.m. school custodians and their supporters from areas including Rockford, Elgin and Wheaton will rally to protest school board inaction at the annual conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago (151 E Upper Wacker Drive).
WHAT: School Custodians Protest No Holiday/Sick Pay, Low Wages at Illinois Association of School Boards Annual Conference
WHEN: Friday, November 21, 2014 at 10:30 a.m.
WHERE: Hyatt Regency Chicago – 151 E Upper Wacker Dr.
WHO: SEIU Local 1 school custodians from Rockford, Elgin and Wheaton and their supporters
The custodians have been reaching out to their school districts’ boards of education, and testifying at their meetings to request support for better pay and basic benefits like paid holidays and sick days. The boards can dictate wage and benefit standards to the cleaning contractors they hire yet so far, none have taken any action to support the men and women who keep their schools clean and sanitized and their students and staff safe from illness. SEIU Local 1 unites nearly 50,000 workers across six Midwestern states who are building an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy.
More than 6,000 SEIU Local 1 security officers and their families will have more money in their pockets this holiday season. Local 1 security officers who work in buildings across the Chicagoland area unanimously ratified a new union contract on Saturday, November 8, 2014. They won raises of 25 cents an hour, improvements to their paid time off and a 67 percent reduction in employee healthcare contribution, dropping it from $300 down to $100. This victory enables more than 3,000 officers to get coverage who previously couldn’t afford it.
“Saving $200 a month in healthcare costs in addition to my raise will allow me to better care for me and my family,” said Kenyatta Sinclair, a security officer at the University of Chicago. “This is what can happen when working people unite together.”
By Corina Curry
Rockford Register Star | October 29. 2014
“You should use the taxpayers’ money to bring good jobs to the city,” said Carolina Villalobos, an organizer with Service Employees International Union, which represents the employees. “We’re here to ask for your help.”
Most of the district’s custodians work for $11 an hour, SEIU officials said. While they no longer are district employees — their work was outsourced in 2005 — small groups of school janitors have been attending board meetings in recent months, asking for the district’s support as they attempt to negotiate a new one-year contract with their employer, GCA Services Group.
The people who mop floors and empty garbage cans at the district’s 47 schools work full-time without health insurance, paid holidays or paid sick time. The group is asking for a 3 percent raise and benefits from GCA but has been unsuccessful. The current contract expires Friday.
The group is frustrated, members said, because the district has spent millions of dollars on facilities upgrades and building improvements in recent years, but when they ask for better working conditions to care for the buildings, they are told there are no funds.
Before 2005, Rockford’s public school custodians were district employees. The district put the contract out to bid that year. The employees unionized as SEIU Local 1 about eight years ago.
The district signed a three-year contract with GCA in May.
Illinois public school custodians in Rockford and Elgin receive no paid sick days and are not paid on school holidays, not even Christmas Day. No one should be forced to choose between spreading illness or sacrificing much-needed pay. Please take a few minutes to email these local school boards and urge them to support the men and women who keep our public schools clean and healthy.
ILLINOIS — “Right to work” hasn’t been a headline in the campaign for Illinois governor, but it could be one of the most controversial topics. The policy for a state, or municipalities inside it, to become a “right to work” community has been a divisive issue in states with large union presences. In Illinois, it could be just as divisive.
A right to work law would end mandatory payment of dues for workers in companies or government organizations with a union presence. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has been on the record saying he would support “right to work” zones where a county or local municipality could decide for itself if it wished to implement the law.
Paul Kersey is labor policy director for the Illinois Policy Institute. It’s a conservative research group. Kersey says “right to work” is about giving employees back their rights.
“Workers can decide for themselves whether or not to join a union. You cannot be forced to join or pay dues or fees to a union as a condition for employment,” Kersey said.
The institute’s research shows right to work states are more attractive to businesses looking for a home.
“Employers want to know if there’s a union in the workplace, and it’s there because the workers really want it there,” Kersey said.
But Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, says the real reason companies look for right to work is because the loss in revenue drains unions’ bargaining power.
“What it will do is weaken workers’ ability to use their collective strength to protect their wages and benefits,” Balanoff said.
Rauner has suggested letting individual communities create right to work zones to attract business. Balanoff said promoting growth by weakening unions is not smart business in the long run.
“If we’re bringing companies in here,” he said, “and we’re telling them come to this state because you won’t have to pay taxes and you can pay workers less than you might pay in other places, that’s not a good idea.”
Balanoff said the biggest issue with right to work is it creates a free-rider system eroding union support. People who don’t pay are still required to be given all of the protections under their union contract. Rauner has said he would not advocate for a statewide right to work law.
On September 17, hundreds of Chicago area residential building engineers, maintenance staff and janitors voted nearly unanimously to ratify a new contract, effective December 1, 2014. The workers won increased pension funding, substantial wage increases and added benefits like more carried over sick time and a paid examination day each year.
Chicago’s residential workers formed SEIU Local 1 in the early 1900s. Learn more about them by watching this video:
At the September 6, 2014, membership meeting, a new SEIU Local 1 Executive Board was elected and sworn in. The slate of nominees was uncontested and the new board members were voted in by acclamation at every SEIU Local 1 membership meeting across our six states. We look forward to the new Executive Board’s leadership. You can read the list of the current board officers and members.
We also celebrate the years of service that the outgoing board members dedicated to their SEIU Local 1 brothers and sisters. Be sure to thank these leaders for all that they have done for working families in the Midwest.
Dave Gathman | email@example.com | Oct. 9 7:27 p.m.
ELGIN — Even as Elgin Community College apparently has settled the issue of possibly outsourcing its custodial duties, custodians who already are working for an outside company in District U46 K-12 schools are involved in a heated labor negotiation. They say they want benefits and pay more equal to that enjoyed by custodian/maintenance people working alongside them who are employed directly by District U46.
District U46 now has two sets of custodian/maintenance people. One group, who work mainly in the daytime, work 40 hours a week. They handle more challenging maintenance duties, work as U46 employees, get a healthy package of benefits and are represented by a union named the Educational Support Service Organization (ESSO). These people have a contract through 2016.
But since 2006 the 180 custodians who clean up all U46 schools at night or work as additional cleaning staff in the daytime at high schools and middle schools, are employed by an outside company named GCA Service Group, based in Knoxville, Tenn. The school district contracted with GCA to provide those services. GCA in turn hires the workers, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
SEIU organizer Carolina Villalobos said the labor contract between that second tier of custodians and GCA expired June 30. As representatives of the union and GCA continue to negotiate, the current contract conditions were extended, but Villalobos said that extension also will expire Oct. 31.
The pay and benefits between the two groups contrast drastically. According to U46’s contract with the ESSO workers, they get 14 paid holidays per year, including the Good Friday “Spring Holiday” and the day after Thanksgiving. They get 10 days of paid vacation after one year on the job, growing to 20 days of vacation after 15 years of service. They get up to 10 days per year of sick leave, which can accrue from year to year without limit.
They also get health insurance, for which they must pay 10 percent of the taxpayers’ cost. They get dental insurance and $30,000 worth of life insurance. And the school district and they share the cost of accumulating pension benefits through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
And their pay ranges from about $14 per hour, for a middle-school night custodian for a relief custodian, to more than $35 per hour for a maintenance foreman.
The GCA custodians, on the other hand, get no benefits at all and make barely more than the minimum wage, according to Kimball Middle School custodian Hugo Barrientos.
Barrientos took his group’s case to the U46 Board of Education this week, asking board members to do whatever they can to influence GCA in the labor talks.
“We are employees but we are also parents,” Barrientos said during the board meeting’s public-comment time. “We work hard to ensure a clean and healthy environment for students, teachers and staff. But we are struggling to make ends meet.”
For example, Barrientos said that because the GCA workers get no sick pay, they often come to school sick, which could spread germs to the children in their schools.
He said later that after working in U46 schools for 12 years — the last eight as a GCA employee — he makes $10.80 an hour for a 35-hour work week. Some of his coworkers make as little as $9, he said.
Barrientos said the GCA people who work in the daytime, as he does, do many of the same thing as their higher-paid, benefits-endowed counterparts who are employed directly by the school district. Besides cleaning the cafeteria after meals, he said, he changes light bulbs and ballasts, shovels snow, and helps students open uncooperative lockers.
GCA officials could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t know what we could do” about the situation, U46 CEO Tony Sanders said after the meeting. He said he believes GCA was chosen by the school district as the lowest-cost responsible vendor to provide such services, and the way they compensate their employees must at least meet the minimum requirements of the state prevailing wage law.
When Elgin Community College recently went looking for an outside company to provide consulting services for its all-in-house custodial work, GCA was one of five companies that submitted a bid. But ECC leaders picked another firm because its fee was much lower and that firm specialized in consulting work.