AU janitors and members of the student group AU Solidarity petitioned people on the Quad Thursday and Friday, asking for student support and claiming that AU’s 110 custodial workers lack good working conditions.
The main complaints of AU custodians - who work for the company Aramark and are represented by the Service Employees International Union, Local 82 - are that they lack pension plans, have inadequate healthcare and receive low pay when compared to janitors at other District universities.
“If we have to strike, we will strike,” union representative Maria Diaz said. “They are willing to strike. These employees are fed up already.”
Although the custodians work at AU, they are actually employed by Aramark, which provides food and other service workers to a variety of organizations. AU gives Aramark money for cleaning services and Aramark hires the workers.
This means that both AU and Aramark influence the pay and benefits that AU’s custodians receive.
“Who is the one that has to give money to these employees?” Diaz said. “Basically, they [AU] have to come up with the money for Aramark to pay employees.”
According to Diaz, the custodians’ contract expired on June 30 and has been every month since then.
She said janitors’ wages are determined by the shifts they work. The day shift staff earns $9.65 an hour, evening shifts earn $9.80 and overnight workers earn $10.10.
Diaz also said this wage is not in line with the AU wage policy University President Benjamin Ladner instituted last year, indicating that all AU full-time workers would earn at least $10.31 per hour.
Last February, a project team comprised of faculty, staff and students was appointed to review the “living wage issue.” This team encouraged the University to pay “fair” wages so that the “lowest paid employees can live within the economic structure of the greater Washington geographic region,” according to Ladner’s Nov. 14, 2002, statement.
“The policy will cover all full-time, non-union, staff employees of the University,” the statement said.
Diaz said that newly hired janitors are under a three-month probation period, and the wage policy is supposed to kick in after three months.
“I want everybody to earn the same thing,” Diaz said.
Diaz said that she did not know the total amount of money spent for contracted cleaning services. “That’s between the president of AU and Aramark,” she said.
“Aramark negotiates with the president of AU,” she continued. “The president of AU has to give enough money to pay the janitors $10.31.”
Audrey Terry, AU’s director of housekeeping, said, “We are doing negotiations and I can’t discuss that right now.”
Terry referred other questions to Aramark’s public relations department. Officials there were unavailable for comment by press time.
According to documents provided by Diaz, custodians at Gallaudet University earn at least $9.75 per hour, and those at George Washington University earned at least $12.54 per hour in 2001.
According to a document from AU Solidarity, “the annual salary after taxes of the lowest paid janitors is about $14,000.”
“Many of the custodians at AU have been here 10, 20 years,” AU Solidarity member Rebecca DeWinter said. “$14,000 a year is not enough to live on, especially in D.C. That’s a no-brainer. We’re trying to send a message to Aramark that this is unfair and to gain support from students on campus.”
The janitors’ union is currently negotiating the workers’ contract with Aramark negotiator Robert Gould, Diaz said.
A proposal Diaz made to Aramark last Monday sought at least $11.45 per hour for the custodians, effective July 1, 2003.
Diaz said that when she told Gould about the higher wages other university custodians get, “He said, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’”
In her negotiations with Aramark, Diaz said she is also asking for pension benefits for the workers.
She is also requesting that Aramark pick up the cost of health insurance, which now falls on the janitors’ shoulders, she said.
The custodians’ company health plan, through Kaiser Permanente, requires the employees to pay $40 per week, Diaz said.
According to the same document from AU Solidarity, “About half of the Aramark janitors cannot afford the company plan because of the high weekly contribution and co-pays. Many of the janitors instead use publicly financed health care for themselves and their families at taxpayer expense.”
The document goes on further to say that “Aramark has proposed a 64 percent raise in the employee’s weekly contribution, which will cause even more janitors to opt out of the plan.”
The union document also said that custodians are also complaining about high workloads.
“Negotiations have failed again and again and again,” said junior Andrew Linke, a member of AU Solidarity.
Linke said that the group has been working on the effort since the beginning of the semester.
“When we first got back in the fall this was something that we needed to get moving on,” Linke said.
Diaz said that she and AU Solidarity hoped for 1,000 signatures on the petitions Thursday and Friday. At the end of the day Thursday, there were 573, and by Friday they were “very close to 1,000,” Diaz said.
Freshman Britanny Boursiquot was one of the students who signed the petition Thursday.
“They [custodians] do so much for us. It’s only respectable,” Boursiquot said. “We’re learning about this [similar situation] in class right now. It’s like that movie ‘Bread and Roses.’”
Diaz said that AU students are important to the custodians’ effort. “You guys are the most important people for the janitors to win something,” Diaz said.
Diaz said that the union and AU Solidarity are planning a march for Oct. 23, where the petitions would be given to Aramark representatives and possibly to Ladner.
The union and AU Solidarity will be petitioning through Friday.