The strike targets major downtown Boston buildings serviced by
contract cleaning agency UNICCO, though organizers are considering
extending it to other buildings. The union's main demands revolve
around health care, full-time employment, and wages. Under their
current contract, janitors must work twenty-nine hours per week in
order to qualify for health care. However, only one in four janitors are full-time workers. This is due to a deliberate policy of maintaining workers below the minimum necessary to accrue benefits, according to John Shea, political director of SEIU local 615. He says one UNICCO official described himself as "ideologically opposed" to full-time work.
Cynthia Kain, spokeswoman for the Boston Justice for Janitors campaign
and employee of local 615, says the union will only negotiate if
management puts forth an offer that increases the number of janitors
with health care.
Shea says that the strike is
the result of a change in the leadership of the local. Ed Sullivan, the
former leader of then-local 254, did not represent the membership,
Shea says. About a year ago, the local was taken into receivership by
the national SEIU leadership. When it emerged from receivership a few
months ago, it was more aggressive and, according to Shea, more
responsive to the membership. One of the clearest indications of this
is the presence in union literature and demonstrations of the Spanish language, which along with Portuguese
is the prevailing language of the immigrant-heavy union. The most common rallying cry of the
union is now "Sí se puede!" ("Yes, we can!").
The strike has drawn support from many different sectors.
According to Kain, major unions like the Teamsters and the
Communication Workers of America (CWA) have promised not to cross
picket lines, meaning many of Boston's offices will be unable to
receive FedEx or UPS packages (or packages from any other unionized
delivery agency), and telephone repairs or installations will have to
be performed by telephone companies' management or not at all.
some of which have featured mild, choreographed civil disobedience,
such as occupying street intersections for brief periods, have drawn
members of the CWA as well as anti-globalization protesters, who say the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) are the reason so many of the janitors had to flee their countries for low-wage jobs in the US. United
Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) organizers
expressed solidarity in a recent
organizing action at a local supermarket by purchasing food for
the soon-to-be striking workers.
The strike has also drawn support from the Boston Student Labor Action
Project, which grew out of student-led campaigns for a living wage
for workers at Boston-area universities, especially one at Harvard
University, which featured a three-week occupation of Harvard's
administrative office by the Progressive Student Labor Movement. The campaign has drawn a favorable editorial from one
major Boston daily newspapers, the Boston Globe and a moderately favorable one from the other, the Herald.
Barring a miraculous turn of
events, "Sí se puede" will be heard throughout the city, starting on Monday.