The janitors who lost their jobs cleaning the city's buildings this year may be rehired by a surprisingly cheap union contractor this summer. City Council members on Tuesday declined to require that their wages and benefits be restored.
The council was asked to weigh in on the issue of pay after janitors picketed City Hall in November. After a fallout with the previous contractor, GCA, over the city's willingness to pay for rising healthcare costs, the city had switched temporarily to a non-union janitorial services contractor, IMS, which significantly cut pay and hours, and eliminated healthcare benefits for the five city janitors it rehired.
One city janitor told the council on Tuesday that the cuts felt like "a slap in the face" and asked members to "correct these wrongs that have been to me and others that have kept your buildings clean for 10 years."
"I am proud of my work here," she said. "Please respect our hard work."
Voting 5-1, council members passed a motion to hire a janitorial services contractor within a year or two. Mayor John Inks was opposed and member Mike Kasperzak was absent.
The city may hire a union-organized janitorial service even sooner, as city officials mull over seven bids for a new janitorial services contract to be awarded in July. Three of the seven bidding contractors are union and provide health benefits.
At least initially, using a union contractor doesn't cost more than a non-union contractor, city officials said. Five of the seven bidders said costs for the city would not change to comply with a Service Employee's International Union contract for Bay Area janitors. Six of the seven bidders have higher minimum wages than the lowest rung on the SEIU's Bay Area pay scale for janitors, which pays first-year janitors $8.50 an hour.
Council members declined a request by union officials to restore wages lost by the janitors by advancing pay on the scale used in the SEIU contract, which maxes out at $14.04 an hour after four years. Public works director Mike Fuller said that would cost the city more than is budgeted this year for janitorial services, based on what the city is paying its current contractor.
"It's tough to live on $8.50 an hour in this region," said Dennis Drodge, political director of the South Bay AFL-CIO, referring to the starting wage on the SEIU scale. "That's why San Jose raised the minimum wage."
Mayor Inks questioned the assertion that $8.50 an hour was not enough to live on. He said a union contractor shouldn't be required, as it might go against "what's the best value for the city" and be an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.
SEIU officials noted that the union is in a labor dispute with the city's current contractor, IMS, because it had signed onto the SEIU's Bay Area-wide agreement but had not been abiding by the agreement with its janitors in Mountain View's city buildings.