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News ::
SEIU launches massive strike (english)
01 Oct 2002
Modified: 03 Oct 2002
The Service Employees' International Union (SEIU) local 615 lauched
one of the largest labor actions in recent Boston history on Monday,
September 30. Twelve hundred janitors from about fifteen buildings
did not attend work that evening, going on strike instead. The
following night, more janitors struck and the union plans to continue
escalating until up to 11,000 janitors are on strike throughout
Greater Boston. (article 1)
Today, I marched with the janitors from Old West Church near
Government Center to Post Office Square, and back to Old West Church.
The march was lively, exuberant, and festive, almost carnival-like.
The first thing I noticed was the sea of purple and yellow, the colors of the SEIU: on the janitors' shirts, on their pickets, and on their banners. As the march started about five o'clock, it felt more like a wandering action throughout the city, with contingents of janitors heading from picket site to stand-out to picket site, 1 Beacon St. now, 60 State St. the next moment. Everywhere you looked, you saw purple and yellow, and heard "Huelga! Huelga!" Huelga (strike), because almost all of the janitors speak Spanish or Portuguese as their first language. Maybe one of the 400-500 janitors I spoke with or listened to was speaking English without an
accent--most didn't speak English at all.

Eventually, the rally congealed on Congress St., where about five
hundred of us took to the street and headed off on a long trip on foot through Boston. That was when it really started feeling festive. Many of the janitors carried aluminum soda cans filled with coins or pebbles to rattle and make lots of noise; some took the signs off their pickets and beat them like drums with the picket itself, others blew into whistles. There were people on bullhorns trying to lead the janitors in chants: "El
pueblo unido jamas sera vencido" (The people united will never be
defeated), "Que queremos? Justicia! Cuando? Ahora!" (What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!), and the always popular "Si se puede!" (Yes we can!), but as different janitors followed different chants, the chants melded into a bazaar of words: "Si! Justicia! Jamas sera vencido!" It felt as if a voice which is rarely heard in public in Boston--that of the Latino immigrant working in a literal shit job--was coming out so fast and so hard that it could barely keep up with itself.

Somewhere along the way we joined with another large strand of the
march, and suddenly, I found that we were about 1,000 to 1,200 strong. As we walked through the narrow streets of downtown Boston, the voices echoed off the walls powerfully, with police sirens (motorcycle cops pushing to the front of the march to direct traffic) and car horns punctuating the noise. The loudest car horns and the largest applause for them by far came from the package deliverers--UPS, FedEx, and the USPS.

When we got back to Old West Church, I found a Spanish-language
translator to help me with an interview--the teenage daughters of a
janitor, and got in one interview: Luz, a janitor at International
Place, who said simply that the strike made her happy, and she knew
they were going to win. After that, all the janitors went inside the
church to receive their instructions for tomorrow, when they'll do
it all again.
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Seeing Purple: Boston Janitors on Strike (english)
03 Oct 2002
(this article can also be found at

It was early summer when the large purple masses crowded downtown Boston streets. As the weeks passed, it became increasingly difficult to miss the cacophony of whistles, pots and pans echoing off office buildings. Now months later, the group is even larger and louder because as of this past Monday, the purple-shirted noise-makers, Boston-area janitors from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615, are on strike and we can expect to see union members everywhere but at work.

After three months of unsuccessful contract negotiations with cleaning companies like Unicco, a national firm based in Newton, and Consolidated Services, which contracts janitorial services with local universities, roughly 1,000 janitors didn’t show up for their evening shifts this Monday at locations including but not limited to the World Trade Center, 100 Summer St., One Beacon St., and Northeastern University.

With students, community leaders such as the Archdiocese of Boston, building owners like Equity Properties, State Street Bank, Fleet and California-based CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System) supporting them, the janitors demanded health care, more full-time work, a living wage and less wage disparity between job sites.

One of the more prominent issues causing conflict between management and SEIU is how many janitors qualify to be covered by health insurance. Since more than 75 percent of janitors do not receive health care due to their part-time status, most must work two or three jobs to afford simple things like a visit to a doctor (two days pay for a janitor), or a prescription of antibiotics (a day’s wages). According to Cynthia Kain, SEIU spokeswoman, only one in four janitors have health insurance.

The janitors’ struggle for health care coverage is especially distressing because many of Boston's major real estate owners have contracts in other cities that guarantee that the janitors who clean those buildings receive health insurance. In addition to this, many cities that have equal or higher commercial rent rates are paying their janitors better wages. In New York City, a market similar to Boston (Boston has the second highest commercial rent in the country), janitors get paid twice as much. In San Francisco and Pittsburgh, cities where rent rates are significantly lower, janitors also receive higher wages and health care.

Since negotiations for a new contract, which would cover some 10,000 janitors, started in the middle of June, SEIU members and supporters have taken numerous actions to raise awareness about the janitors' struggle. These protests included rallies at Park Street, marches through downtown and several direct actions leading up to Monday’s strike. On Thursday, September 12, nine people were arrested at the Prudential Mall in a civil disobedience action in support of the janitors. Two weeks later, a rally was held in Copley Square where seven people were arrested for blocking traffic.

Many actions have also taken place at Northeastern University, a top landowner in the state that contracts with Consolidated, and a major employer of SEIU janitors. Two thousand of the 10,000-plus SEIU Local 615 janitors work on university campuses in the Boston-area, and another 2,000 clean off-campus university property around the city.

Many of these events were not organized by SEIU exclusively or even at all but were instead orchestrated by student-based organizations like Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) and other NGOs like Jobs with Justice.

Lara Jirmanus, an organizer from Jobs with Justice and SLAP feels student involvement plays a crucial role in the janitors’ struggle. “The arrests really started to galvanize students."

Seth Amsden, a Northeastern student and one of the nine arrested at the Prudential action, said students serve to "act as a support system for the janitors and let them know that they aren't fighting alone." He added, "We also put the pressure on the administration and are perhaps more visible than the janitors. Plus, we can take advantage of certain privileges afforded us by our status as students."

According to union officials, more strike locations will be added daily. SEIU members, students and strike supporters alike will be continuing actions for an indefinite amount of time until their demands are met. As for now, no one is certain how the next few days will unfold. “The future is up in the air," Jirmanus said. Be sure to check back with the Dig as we continue coverage of this story.

Sources for this story include and

For additional background on the strike or for updates check out, or