Janitors union, Dist. 220 at odds over whether contract can be renegotiated

  • A Barrington High School janitor who is on strike in protest of recent wage cuts addresses the Barrington Area Unit School District 220 during their Tuesday evening meeting.

    A Barrington High School janitor who is on strike in protest of recent wage cuts addresses the Barrington Area Unit School District 220 during their Tuesday evening meeting. Doug T. Graham | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/2/2015 5:29 AM

Around 25 custodians, union employees and supporters of the striking janitors at Barrington High School again called on the school district at a Tuesday night board meeting to renegotiate their contract with their employer so their wages, which were cut from $9.77 to $8.50 an hour last month, can be restored.

The majority of Barrington High's custodians are on strike to protest the pay cut they got from their employer, RJB Properties, the company contracted by Barrington Area Unit School District 220 to provide custodial services at the school.

 

"We want to go back to our work, but we're asking you to respect our rights," Eustacio Torres, a custodian at Barrington High School for the last nine years, said through a translator. "We're asking you if you are willing to support us for better wages, we'd appreciate it very much."

Board President Brian Battle said the board doesn't like that the janitors' pay was cut under the new contract that was signed over the summer, but said there was little they could do to change the current deal.

J.C. Kibbey, a public policy researcher for the Service Employees International Union, told the board that in his opinion the law allowed them to renegotiate their current contract with RJB.

"You have the money, you have the power and you have the political support to act, to amend this contract and to pay these workers a living wage," Kibbey said.

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But Battle said that isn't the case. RJB won the contract to provide custodial service at the high school by submitting the lowest bid, which was $587,506. That bid was $35,793 less than the next lowest bidder, and about $124,000 less than what the district paid RJB last year. RJB Properties has not commented on the strike since it began on August 20.

Battle said that if the district changed the contract with RJB to give them enough money to increase workers' pay back to $9.77 then RJB's bid wouldn't be the lowest any longer, and the other companies that submitted bids would be entitled by law to get the contract.

"I feel bad because I know they feel we're hiding behind the law," Battle said. "But the law is fairly clear on this and we did make an oath to uphold the law."

Last week, Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Izabela Miltko said the union would remain on strike and not return to the negotiating table until RJB agreed to restore worker's wages to $9.77. Battle said they have promised both the janitors union and their employers, RJB, that they will re-evaluate everything about how they provide custodial service at Barrington High in the spring when they are planning for the 2016-17 school year.

The janitors will spend their tenth day on strike today. RJB has provided replacement workers to Barrington High during the strike.

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