Maintenance strike averted with union vote

After negotiating for seven months and demonstrating last week in the hopes of winning a better contract offer, the Aramark-contracted maintenance employees at USC overwhelmingly approved a new contract at the union meeting on Saturday.

The contract, which will be in effect for the next three years, was approved by nearly 99 percent of the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West members, according to Raphael Lieb, an internal organizer for the union.

Lieb said last Wednesday’s on-campus march was a turning point in the union’s negotiations with Aramark.

“When the employer came back that day they came back with some major improvements,” Lieb said. “I think that’s due in no small part to support from the university community.”

One of the main points of contention during negotiations was the health insurance co-pay, which Aramark wanted to raise drastically. The approved contract raises the co-pay only slightly.

The approved contract also stipulates that wages will be increased in concurrence with the cost of living over the next three years. Additionally, janitors will be able to cash out unused sick and vacation time, something they were unable to do before, Lieb said.

The union was prepared to strike if an agreement was not met by this weekend. A week ago a strike seemed likely but after the march things turned around, Lieb said.

“Going into last week it was still a possibility,” Lieb said. “We were still far away from where we wanted to be. I think what made a huge difference was the university community’s willingness to step up and help support the janitors.”

The contract, which the vast majority of the maintenance staff voted to approve, is dramatically improved from what Aramark had proposed just a week ago, Lieb said.

Though they made some sacrifices, Lieb said it seemed most members of the maintenance staff were happy with the outcome.

“It’s actually a really exciting victory for USC janitors because they’re able to make some great gains in the context of a really rough economy,” Lieb said.