Janitors set strike vote

class=img_thumbleft>The 4,200 workers who clean Twin Cities office buildings are getting closer to walking off the job.

Contract negotiations

between the Minneapolis-St. Paul Service Contractors Association, which represents 18 cleaning companies, and Service Employees International Union

Local 26

have collapsed. Efforts to settle on a new labor pact for the workers ended acrimoniously last week and their contract expired at the end of the year. There are no further talks scheduled.

In a conference call yesterday, Local 26 president Javier Morillo-Alicea, announced that a strike vote by the union's members is slated for January 13. However, no date has been chosen for when a work stoppage might occur.

The primary stumbling block in negotiations is healthcare coverage. Under the previous three-year contract, the companies were required to contribute $230 monthly to a health plan of their choosing. Local 26 is seeking to give their members the option of choosing a plan that was created by SEIU and UnitedHealthCare. Under the union's proposal, the cleaning contractors would contribute $300 monthly for individual plans and $362 for family coverage.

"Health care is a central issue for us in these negotiations," Morillo-Alicea said in the conference call. "While we've been ready and willing to discuss affordable health care our employers have refused to do so. ... They've disrespected the bargaining process and disrespected janitors."

In a press release issued after talks broke down last week, the owners' association claims that they've proposed health-insurence changes that would increase company costs by 600 percent. "The SEIU Local 26 refused to discuss the Association's last offer and walked away from negotiations," the statement reads.

Morillo-Alicea, however, insists that those numbers are fiction. "Is the proposal going to cost money?," he asks. "Absolutely. Is it going to be 600 percent? No."

Morillo-Alicea says that union members are committed to securing a better healthcare package from the employers. "It's a new day at Local 26," he says. "Our members are energized."

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