Chants of "Si se puede!" and "Justice!" filled the air yesterday as downtown janitors marched on 16th Street for better conditions and voted to authorize a potential strike. The contract for almost 2,300 Denver janitors will expire at the end of June, and after four weeks of negotiation with contractors who employ janitors in 95 percent of downtown office buildings, Local105 of the Service Employees International Union may be on the verge of a work stoppage.
"We're cautiously optimistic," said Josh Downey, political director for the chapter. "After today, we'll be one step closer to fair treatment."
The union's main demands are for improved health care benefits, better wages (the SEIU says that the average janitor makes $14,441 a year) and sustainable jobs in a sector where reasonable hours and workloads are not assured. The workers marched from 17th and Welton to the Republic Plaza on Tremont amid talk about the "greediest" contractors currently bargaining with the SEIU.
Denver is the fifth fastest-recovering market in the nation, and rent and occupation are staying up -- although employees say they they haven't shared in the good fortune. "[Today], workers are just acting to share in that prosperity," Downey said.
The march marks the twenty-year anniversary of the Justice for Janitors movement, which began right here in Denver. The Denver City Council passed a proclomation on Monday that thanks the janitors "for their work in keeping our own public buildings beautiful and comfortable" and declares the week of June 25 to July 2 "Justice for Janitors week."
In those twenty years, Denver janitors have never gone out on strike. But Thursday's vote would give their negotiating team license to do just that if this week's round of bargaining fails to produce any gains.
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