Janitors rally for higher wages

USC janitors took to Trousdale Parkway Wednesday in their second protest in less than a week.

Dressed in purple t-shirts and carrying signs that proclaimed “Justice for Janitors,” the large group made a circuit around campus, passing McCarthy Quad, Katherine B. Loker Stadium and Tommy Trojan before ending near the Finger Fountain. They conducted a similar protest last Friday.

The 200-250 janitors organized by the Service Employees International Union, United Service Workers West, are asking USC officials to support them in their bid for higher wages and better health care benefits from subcontractor Aramark. The previously protested on campus  in 2009 and in 2012.

“We have been basically negotiating a contract for the workers where we’re trying to make sure we maintain the standard and elevate in areas where we think it’s the most important, so specifically in wages,” said Edmundo Garcia, contract enforcement specialist at SEIU USWW.

The workers union contract expired at the end of June. Since, the janitors have been working without a contract, according to Luiz Fuentes, lead organizer with SIEU USWW.

“[Negotiations haven’t] gone as smoothly as we would like for it to go,” Fuentes said.

Though the janitors’ negotiations are strictly with Aramark, the group hopes that the University can assist them in negotiating a better contract.

“As the entity getting the services from Aramark, [the University has] a big stake in this,” Garcia said.

Flyers the group has been handing out include the numbers of both President C.L. Max Nikias and John Welsh, associate vice president of Facilities Management Services, and ask supporters to call the two.

USC, however, said it is not involved in the negotiations.

“We know the University is one of the most highly endowed universities,” Garcia said. “We feel like we want to make sure that our janitors are getting paid good wages so that they can continue to provide the benefits and decent living for their families.”

Currently, the janitors earn from $9.75 up to $17 an hour, depending on how long they’ve held their job and their skill set, Garcia said.

“These workers need to stay ahead of the minimum wage, especially on a campus that can afford it,” Luiz said. “They need to protect their healthcare, and we need to protect the conditions of the workers in this campus.”

Previously, USC directly employed the janitors.

“Many of them feel very tied to the USC community,” Garcia said. “They see themselves as USC workers.”

Salvador Hernandez, one of the janitors protesting, said he’s been working at USC for 25 years.

“We’re protesting because it’s one of our rights to raise issues and concerns and also voice our position,” Hernandez said through a translator. “We want the university president to know we want a good contract.”

Nadine Apilado contributed to this report.