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Greater Boston janitors avoid strike, reach tentative agreement

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Avoiding what would have been one of the largest strikes in recent memory, the 13,000 janitors who clean and maintain thousands of office buildings in the Greater Boston area secured a tentative, four-year agreement with the Maintenance Contractors of New England just hours before contract expiration.

The deal, subject to ratification by the members, provides a 12 percent increase in wages over the life of the contract and expands employer-paid healthcare to family members of full-time employees. Metro Boston janitors will make $20 an hour by the end of the contract. The agreement also moves makes advancements for full-time work in what is still a predominantly part-time industry and includes a new legal assistance benefit for all members.

Negotiations for a new, multi-year contract began last August between 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service union in the country, and a consortium of the largest contractors in the industry. On Saturday September 24, the membership voted to authorize the 32BJ bargaining committee to call a strike if they could not reach come to an agreement with the contractors.

Cleaners seek new contract that expands opportunities for full-time employment, expands employer-paid health care for family members of full-time workers and raises to a level they say keeps up with the cost of living. When they negotiated their last contract four years ago, the country was in a recession; now cleaners say employers should be able to meet their requests in time when commercial real estate has low vacancy rates and high rents.

With more than 155,000 members in 11 states, including 18,000 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, SEIU 32BJ is the largest property services union in the country.