Custodian strike to greet Barrington High students on first day

Students returning to Barrington High School will be greeted by picket lines of janitors unsatisfied with their pay for cleaning the school, a union spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Izabela Miltko of the Service Employees International Union said the workers are negotiating a new contract with their employer, RJB Properties, which is contracted by Barrington Area Unit School District 220 to provide custodial services at the high school.

Union members decided to strike after a bargaining session Tuesday morning.

“They (RJB) said they may be able to work at increasing their pay next year, but at this point there was nothing they could do,” Miltko said.

Miltko said RJB cut workers' pay from $9.77 to $8.50 an hour after winning a new contract with the school district earlier this year. The $9.77 hourly wage was part of a union contract that expired at the end of July, Miltko said.

“The last thing they want to do is go on strike, but something has got to give,” she said. “$8.50 is nowhere near enough to live in Barrington and support their family.”

School board President Brian Battle said the dispute is between RJB and SEIU. The school district will monitor the situation and support both parties to come to a resolution, he said, adding that he does not expect a picket Thursday morning to affect high school operations.

“We want to make sure that teachers and students can easily access the school,” Battle said. “Our expectation is that there will be no change in the educational environment.”

In recent months, janitors and union reps have asked the District 220 school board to renegotiate their contract with RJB to allow the company to pay a higher hourly wage and provide some benefits.

“We were struggling to support our families, now it is impossible,” Nora Samano, a custodian who has worked at the high school for a year, said at a July board meeting.

According to district records, District 220 is paying RJB $587,506 to provide custodial service at the high school this year, which was $35,793 less than the next lowest bidder. RJB won last year's contract with a $657,312 bid.

“The school board has the authority to amend its contracts,” Miltko said in an email. “It has the power to not only restore the wages, but to give school District 220 custodians the living wage and basic benefits that they deserve.”

Battle said he has spoken with district lawyers and does not agree with that statement.

“We put a bid out, we have a legal obligation under the law to accept the lowest bidder,” Battle said. “We've entered into a contract with RJB. The community expects us to honor the commitments that we make.

“I don't think that the school board is in the habit of changing contracts in the middle of the term.”

Battle said he hopes that the two sides are able to meet Wednesday, resolve their differences and avoid a labor action.

“We are willing to help in any constructive way that we can,” Battle said.

RJB officials did not immediately return calls for comment.

Custodians ask District 220 to raise pay

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