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As union contract negotiations between janitors who clean northern California Safeway supermarkets and Safeway’s janitorial services contractors continue into their fifth month, dozens of custodial workers staged a work stoppage on Wednesday to demonstrate frustration with the contractors’ unfair intimidation of workers, including illegal threats of termination, and proposals to sharply reduce standards for wages and benefits.
Contract negotiations between Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877, the labor union of 450 janitors at northern California Safeway supermarkets, and Safeway’s janitorial services contractors, ABM, Crystal, Premier and AMS, have been ongoing since October 2009. The union has alleged that a group of four contractors proposed a large increase in the number of hours of work necessary to be eligible for health care benefits, a 10-cent-per year wage increase, and the right to unilaterally remove janitors from a pension plan. For newly hired janitors, the Safeway contractors also proposed to eliminate dental care benefits, increase the waiting period for medical coverage, and lower starting pay to $8.60 an hour, according to the union, which noted that the janitors at Safeway stores are currently paid $10.24 per hour on average.
Alleging that safety and health are also at issue in the contract negotiations, the union said Safeway’s janitorial contractors “flatly refused to add ‘green cleaning’ standards to the contract, and refused to provide complete critical information to the union on health and safety and hours of work. Despite the fact that janitors at Safeway currently use toxic industrial cleaning chemicals that cause serious health problems, and may pose a risk to food safety and supermarket customers’ health, both the contractors and Safeway officials have been unwilling to take responsibility for the problems, claiming that health and safety conditions fall under the other party’s jurisdiction.”
Denise Solis, SEIU Local 1877’s northern California VP, said, “Ultimately, both Safeway and their individual contractors are responsible for making supermarkets safe, clean and green.”
In the wake of the work stoppage, Solis said janitors vow to continue to mobilize against the contractors’ proposed benefit cuts and unfair intimidation of workers, and speak out against Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway’s silence on the issues.
While more bargaining dates between SEIU-USWW and the Safeway contractors are set for the coming weeks, the janitors may vote soon on whether to authorize their bargaining committee to call an unfair labor practice strike. The janitors’ last extension of their collective bargaining agreement with the contractors expired Feb. 9.