Last Friday morning, members of Service Employees International Union Local 105 (SEIU Local 105) representing nearly 2,500 Denver janitors finalized an agreement with city cleaning contractors for a new three-year contract.
On Tuesday, in light of their victory, janitors gathered at Republic Plaza in celebration.
This comes after two weeks of negotiations, with SEIU Local 105’s bargaining team having pushed for better wages, working conditions, and more respect on the job for Denver’s janitors.
“I’ve been asked a lot about how did we win this great agreement, and I’ve had one answer,” Ron Ruggiero, President of SEIU Local 105, told the crowd. “We won because our members are tough, and you took action, and you wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Over 80 Denver cleaning contractors negotiated with the union, including CCS Facility Services, Rocky Mountain Janitorial, and Master Klean.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the union, and we believe this settlement is in the mutual best interest of the employees, the customers we serve, and the employers,” said Julie Hogan, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at CCS.
The agreement includes guaranteed wage increases, with all janitors set to receive a raise of at least $1 per hour in the first year of the contract, going up to between $2.50 per hour and $2.97 per hour during the contract’s three-year span.
Furthermore, the contract creates a process by which janitors can collaborate with contractors to find solutions to workload problems. Excessive workload has been a major concern of Denver janitors, who are a majority Latina immigrant women, throughout this process. Several janitors have stated that, with coworkers laid off due to COVID, they had to clean entire buildings with teams of as few as three janitors.
Explaining the new process in an interview with the Colorado Times Recorder, Ruggiero said, “The parties have agreed that if either party requests a meeting around workload we’ll have what’s called a labor management committee meeting, which involves people from the company … our union, and the workers that are affected in that building, to dive deep on … the issues on workload, and how do we fix them together.”
Ruggiero continued, “We’ve actually had some success with that process with some contractors already, so we think it’s going to solve a lot of the issues around workload.”
The contract also protects janitors’ healthcare benefits, gives more allowances for sick leave, and eliminates reductions in hours around the holidays.
“I am very confident that we successfully secured every single penny in these negotiations that was available,” Ruggiero told the Colorado Times Recorder. “We did better than some other markets across the country, so I have no doubt in my mind that we did as well as we could have, and it is a fantastic contract that our members are proud of and deserve.”
Yolanda Urias, a member of SEIU Local 105’s bargaining team who has been a janitor in Denver for nine years, expressed her joy at the new contract.
“I think it’s going to help me and my coworkers a lot, especially with a lot of the injustices we’ve been facing,” Urias said, with David Fernandez, Communications Director at SEIU Local 105, translating. “I think it puts us in a better position to be able to address things with our supervisors. … We’re really happy for the raises we’ve been able to get, since they were historic in this contract and the most that we’ve gotten before.”
At the gathering at Republic Plaza Tuesday, SEIU Local 105 members cheered over their victory, before marching partway down the 16th Street Mall to the tune of a live brass band.
Though the new contract has been finalized, it has yet to take effect: before that can happen, it must be ratified by a vote at a SEIU Local 105 meeting on Saturday, Aug 1. Ruggiero said that he “[does] not anticipate any issues” with the ratification process.
“This should be celebrated by everyone across our community,” Ruggiero said. “It’s a major win for workers, again, who deserve it, who have struggled, who always work hard, who have gone through enormous sacrifice during COVID, and so I think that should be celebrated by the contractors, the workers, our union, the building owners, and everybody across Denver Metro.”
This bargaining process required a tremendous amount of hard work on both sides over the past few weeks,” said Hogan. “We’re pleased that this process has concluded with an agreement and a handshake.”
Urias had this to say, with Fernandez translating: “To my community, especially my Latino community, who work here in the cleaning industry, that we stay united.
She continued, “If you don’t have a union, join a union at your workplace, look for help on how to form a union at your workplace. We all have a right to form and join a union and exercise our rights.”