Janitors’ Strike Threatens to Turn into Citywide Labor Showdown
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Snarled deliveries and piled-up trash in offices testify to the newest problem facing Mayor Art Agnos, already plagued by a $180 million city deficit.
Labor officials representing 1,767 striking janitors say the 9-day-old standoff, which has been marked by vandalism and some arrests, may be headed for a city-wide labor-management showdown if it isn’t defused soon.
Effects of the strike and a labor boycott are increasingly evident in the downtown area to tourists and workers who frequent the 204 affected buildings, including most major office complexes.
Paper and garbage are scattered all over downtown, trash bins are overflowing and employees in business suits can be seen lugging heavy packages that Teamster drivers refuse to deliver inside.
Pickets are posted around the clock and a few windows have been broken and eggs smeared on the fronts of buildings where janitors continue to defy the strike.
Labor leaders say they will step up the protests and may further tighten supply lines if contract negotiations remain deadlocked. Trash haulers, building engineers, construction workers, elevator repair personnel, delivery people and longshoremen are all honoring the strike, although the San Francisco Port remains open.
″We see this as an important dispute because it is so visible,″ Chuck Mack, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, said Thursday. The council represents 30 union locals and 65,000 members from Santa Rosa south to Salinas, encompassing the entire San Francisco Bay area.
″The outcome of this dispute is going to set the tone for other negotiations in the city and maybe even the Bay area over the next few years,″ said Mack.
The 3,500-member Local 87 of the Service Employees International Union, working without a contract since February, launched the strike May 24.
The janitors rejected a proposal by the San Francisco Building Maintenance Contractors Association for a three-year freeze of their $11.25 hourly pay, and changes in job assignments the janitors say will cost them money.
The janitors want a 50-cent hourly raise in each year of a proposed three- year contract, as well as the continued right to a leave of absence.
The 11 maintenance firms in the association also are seeking a two-tier pay system in which new hires would get less than current employees.
Disgruntled janitors contend they can’t keep up with the area’s high living expenses under the current proposal and claim management’s hard bargaining stance may be masking an attempt at union-busting.
The contractors, in turn, maintain that only New York janitors make more than San Francisco’s. They say they offer job security and maintained benefits.
Marc Intermaggio, representing the building owners, said they remain ″absolutely firm″ in their commitment to ″stem the rise in these outrageous wages.″
Contract talks continued Thursday for a third straight day since resuming a week after the walkout began, but Local 87 secretary-treasurer Eric Hall said there had been ″zero progress″ since February.
Guillermo Loyola, a union member for 33 years and a unit foreman, said the disturbance that resulted in five arrests on Tuesday is increasingly likely to recur as the stalemate continues.
While some 300 janitors marched through the Financial District, two protesters were arrested after they allegedly struck a police officer with picket signs and three were arrested for vandalism and disturbing the peace.
Local 87 President Wray Jacobs angered police earlier by saying that although he does not condone violence, vandalism is ″an emotional outlet″ and he ″might even break one or two (windows) myself at times.″
The San Francisco Labor Council, which is coordinating the boycott, criticized Agnos this week for not taking stronger steps to end the dispute. After meeting with 14 local labor leaders, the council asked Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to mediate the strike. Brown did not immediately respond.
″It would seem to me that to maintain harmony in the city, he (Agnos) could have called in people sooner,″ said Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the council. ″I think this needs direct action.″
Deputy Mayor Hadley Roff said the mayor has been talking to people behind the scenes and urging the two sides to settle their differences at the bargaining table.
Roff said Agnos had no immediate plans to participate directly in the talks, although he acknowledged having received a few complaints about the downtown disruptions.