Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

SEIU: Going Green for Greenbacks

And you thought it was all about wages and pensions!

Unions and management bring alot of things to the table for negotiations: wages, paid leave, paid sick leave, furloughs, hours, breaks, overtime, pensions, health benefits, insurance…the list goes on and on. Specifically for janitors, something else has been added to the list: Cleaning supplies and how “green” they are.

Here’s an overview:

From News America Media in October:

When supermarket janitors in Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) rallied last month at Safeway and Lucky stores in San Jose, Calif., they weren’t only demanding improved wages and health benefits. They were calling for the adoption of green cleaning standards to make their jobs safer. Earlier this year, SEIU janitors in Southern California made similar demands. Union members even dressed up as fruits and vegetables and picketed outside the 2009 National Grocers Association Convention in Las Vegas. They were calling attention to the safety of chemicals used to clean supermarkets. Putting green cleaning standards on the agenda with wages and benefits is evidence that one of the country’s largest unions is broadening its idea of a safe and healthy workplace.

And more from the Star Tribune this month:

More than 300 janitors in the Twin Cities rallied and marched Saturday in downtown Minneapolis to push a campaign to make their jobs more “green.” The janitors are trying to reduce toxic chemicals in their workplaces and save energy — while making sure they have full-time jobs in their new contract.

The timing is convenient, as the union’s contract expires on December 31.  Locals across the country are picking up on the idea. It’s the oldest bargaining technique in the book–and the SEIU has latched onto something the public cares about as a way of getting more out of companies.

Caring about the environment and conservation is great (a nice change from how unions used to be), and workers safety is paramount, but for the SEIU, it is also a REALLY convenient thing to use as a trump card in negotiations.  It makes unions out to be environmentally-friendly and populist, when really it’s threatening a company with an additional cost burden– unless they kowtow to the union’s demands in other areas like wages and pensions.

Hence playing the card right before contracts expire.  Expect more to come, because it’s a damn great play.

Categories: Center for Union FactsChange To WinEFACNewsSEIU