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Janitor Strike Averted With Tentative Deal

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Janitors rally in Oak Brook Thursday afternoon. (Credit: Craig Dellimore/WBBM Newsradio/CBS)

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UPDATED 04/06/12 5 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of Chicago janitors who work at private buildings and public schools across Chicago have reached a tentative deal “in principle” with employers that would avert a strike next week.

The agreement, which would need to be approved by rank-and-file custodians, was struck shortly before 5 p.m. Friday between union officials and the Building Owners and Managers Association, CBS 2’s Brad Edwards reports.

Terms covering 3,000 suburban janitors were not reached, but that group of workers agreed to extend negotiations into next week, also averting a potential strike, at least for now.

More than 13,000 janitors were poised to walk off the job Monday if negotiations imploded. About 40 people attended the session bargaining session on the 25th floor of the One Illinois Center building, 111 E. Wacker Dr.

“We are pleased to have negotiated in principle a mutually-beneficial contract that addresses the needs of our members and the members of Local 1,” Michael Cornicelli, executive vice president of BOMA/Chicago, said in a written statement. “BOMA/Chicago has historically and consistently provided the union with competitive compensation packages, and we are confident that the new contract is a positive outcome for all parties.”

Many of the commercial buildings downtown are kept clean by the janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1, who say they just want better wages and better health insurance. The union also represents school custodians like Edwards Washington, who says he’s having a tough time making it.

“I can’t even say ends are meeting,” he tells CBS 2’s Brad Edwards. “They’re not meeting. My ends are so far apart right now they don’t even know each other.”

For the past month, SEIU has been trying to reach a deal with the Building Owners and Managers Association on the issues.

The union also points out that the average pay for a janitor is low. On average, union workers currently make about $31,000 per year, and Local 1 officials say in the suburbs the average is $24,000.

“Everything is going up. Obviously, gas is going up. Food is going up. Groceries are going up. They need to be able to make a livable wage to survive,” said SEIU Local 1 spokeswoman Izabela Miltko. “We’re going to take the final offer back to the membership. It’s their call. It’s what they want to do. If they think that they don’t want this, then they don’t want this. If they do, then there will be a settlement.”

Waving yellow flags and chanting, hundreds of janitors and their families gathered Thursday at the corner of Route 83 and 22nd Street in west suburban Oak Brook Thursday afternoon.

They chose that corner because 12 years ago, the union began a strike at the same site. The Building Owners and Managers Association is also headquartered at the site.

“You will hear from us whether or not we go on strike on Monday, but for right now, all of you should report to work, and we’ll be in communication with you over the weekend,” union vice president Laura Garza told rallying janitors through a bullhorn Thursday.

Twelve years ago, workers staged a strike that lasted for two weeks in the suburbs and one day in downtown Chicago.

If a strike goes ahead, some of the buildings and offices that would be affected by a strike include Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, General Electric, CME Group, Boeing, AT&T, Kraft, United Airlines, and Tishman Speyer.

The janitors voted to authorize the strike over the past weekend. They also rallied at Teamster City at the intersection of Ashland Avenue and Jackson Boulevard on Saturday.

SEIU cites the Economic Policy Institute’s calculation that the cost of living for a family of four in the Chicago area is $51,319 a year — $20,000 more than the average janitor makes.

The contract covers:
• 4,000 janitors in downtown commercial office buildings
• 3,000 in suburban commercial office buildings
• 2,700 in public schools and city of Chicago facilities
• 3,500 in malls, universities and other buildings.

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