Striking Barrington High janitors: Restore pay and we'll negotiate

  • Barrington High School students, shown here Thursday when they went on strike, continue to picket outside the school as their union and the contractor they work for have been unable to come to an agreement on a new contract. School officials say they're trying to help the two sides reach a deal.

    Barrington High School students, shown here Thursday when they went on strike, continue to picket outside the school as their union and the contractor they work for have been unable to come to an agreement on a new contract. School officials say they're trying to help the two sides reach a deal. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/25/2015 7:51 PM

Barrington High School janitors spent a fourth day walking picket lines Tuesday, and a union spokeswoman said they will remain on strike until their wages, cut from $9.77 to $8.50 an hour, are restored.

Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Izabela Miltko said the union informed the custodians' employer, RJB Properties, and Barrington Area Unit School District 220 officials that they will return to the bargaining table only when their wages return to last year's level.

 

"When I was at the strike today one of the workers said she was making more money when she was hired on 13 years ago," Miltko said, referring to $8.50 an hour as "poverty wages."

Before SEIU delivered that message Tuesday afternoon, Barrington 220 Superintendent Brian Harris had said he was hopeful the two sides were close to a deal.

"Each and every day we have been working hard with both sides to try to find a resolution," Harris said. "I'm disappointed that an agreement was not able to occur today. I continue to be optimistic we can find some resolution."

Despite calls from the union for the district to intervene, Harris maintains that the dispute remains between RJB and its employees. The district, which contracts RJB to provide custodians to the high school, is just trying to help broker an agreement, he said.

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RJB declined to comment.

Miltko said she hopes a resolution can be reached, but until then workers will continue to picket outside Barrington High.

In the meantime, the school is being cleaned by replacement workers provided by RJB. The difference apparently has not gone unnoticed by students.

After school Monday, Barrington High Principal Steve McWilliams wrote an email to parents asking for their patience as the new custodians get acclimated to the building.

"We respect the RJB employees and acknowledge the hard work they put into keeping our school clean," he wrote.

McWilliams said he sent the email because some students and parents had complained about the job the replacement workers had done during the first days of school.

"They missed some minor things like changing paper towels in some washrooms," McWilliams said. "There is a bit of a learning curve. Things haven't been perfect, but they are getting more comfortable."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While not every janitor who cleaned the school last year is on strike, the majority of the current custodial staff are replacement workers, he said.

The strike began Thursday morning, the first day of school in Barrington. Strikers have been positioned on the sidewalk just east of the high school campus.

The union said they went on strike after RJB indicated it would cut their wages by $1.27 an hour under their next labor agreement. RJB won a one-year contract to clean the high school this school year with a bid of $587,506, which was $35,793 less than the next lowest bidder. RJB won last year's contract with a $657,312 bid.

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