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Nearly 2,000 Portland Janitors Approve Strike

Janitors working in the Portland area are concerned about wages, access to affordable health care, and workloads. (SEIU Local 49)
Janitors working in the Portland area are concerned about wages, access to affordable health care, and workloads. (SEIU Local 49)
June 27, 2016

PORTLAND Ore. - Nearly 2,000 janitors in the Portland metro area authorized a strike over low wages and a lack of access to affordable health care last Friday. The custodians don't want to be priced out of Portland, where the cost of living has been on the rise, including the cost for a home, which has led the nation this year.

Mark Medina, a custodian and member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49, said janitors have three concerns in negotiations with five of Portland's biggest cleaning companies.

"Three paramount issues for our members was work rules, health care, and wages," he said. "And on these three, the offers that the companies have given us have been meager to say the least."

Medina said companies have offered to increase janitorial wages by 20 cents an hour over the next year. However, the union does not feel that's enough to cover the rising cost of living in the city.

Workload and safety are other big concerns. Bryan Leeder, also a member of SEIU Local 49, works as a janitor in downtown Portland, wants policies in place to make sure staff are not overworked.

"We want some specifics in language about covering for employees who are absent, instead of just dumping double the workload on one person because somebody is sick or on vacation," he said.

Medina said the rising cost of housing in Portland and flat wages has pushed him and some of his colleagues out of the city.

"You see wealthier people moving into the downtown area and everything, and then you see workers who live in Gresham, who live in Vancouver, who live in Forest Grove coming into downtown, coming to the Portland area to work," he added.

Janitors in Hillsboro and Vancouver, Washington have also approved a strike if a settlement isn't reached.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR