VCU Cleaners Get First Union Contract
Friday, July 28, 2023
Virginia Commonwealth University cleaners have won their first union contract.
Along with 12 additional paid days off, the school's janitorial staff will also receive a pay increase. Under the contract, their pay will increase from $12 to $15 immediately, and over the next two years, they'll get 65-cent increases to bring their pay to more than $16 an hour.
Angela Arrington, a lead cleaner at VCU, described how this contract benefits workers.
"I think we'll be able to keep more people on our team with the pay raises," she said. "We got 401(k), we're going to be having health insurance. We're going to have vacation and some sick time, and that's going to help a lot, as well."
She described the negotiation not as arduous as some have been. The cleaning staff will also gain some protections in cases of discipline and termination, as well as a grievance and arbitration process for settling disputes. The contract applies to workers at VCU's Monroe Park, MCV, Medical College and undergraduate campuses.
In recent years, Virginia has seen an increase in union activity. In 2022, City of Richmond workers voted to unionize. Employees from other cities - Alexandria, Newport News and Virginia Beach - are either working to form unions, or already have one in place.
Jaime Contreras, executive vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said these are all part of the growing movement in the United States.
"I think the fact that COVID has done a number on all types of workers around the country; inflation has done a number, when it comes to everything going up," he said, "and in general, workers see that a union is a way to improve their working conditions."
While more than 200,000 workers unionized in 2022, union growth has actually dropped to around 10%, one of its lowest levels. The number of union election petitions grew by 53% in the last year - but so did the number of non-union jobs, far exceeding the growth of union jobs.
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