Barrington High janitors strike over, workers return Tuesday

  • A custodian strike at Barrington High School is over, after the janitors' employer promised to up their pay from $8.50 to $9.50 an hour. The custodians will return to work Tuesday.

    A custodian strike at Barrington High School is over, after the janitors' employer promised to up their pay from $8.50 to $9.50 an hour. The custodians will return to work Tuesday. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, August 2015

 
 
Updated 9/3/2015 3:53 PM

Barrington High School janitors are ending their two-week strike over a recent wage cut and will return to work Tuesday after their employer offered to increase their pay.

The workers, members of the Service Employees International Union, had been picketing outside Barrington High since school started on Aug. 20. They called the strike after RJB Properties, which is contracted to provide custodial services to the school, said it planned to reduce their pay from $9.77 to $8.50 an hour.

 

Under the terms negotiated between the union and RJB during a Wednesday night phone call, the workers will be back on the job after the Labor Day weekend with their wages at $9.50 an hour, SEIU spokeswoman Izabela Miltko said.

"This is the first step in the right direction," Miltko said. "Going from $8.50 to $9.50 will put an additional $2,000 in their pocket. But the fight is not over."

Barrington Area Unit School District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris said officials are happy the labor dispute is settled.

"We are excited to welcome back our regular staff on Tuesday morning," Harris said. "It was unfortunate it took two weeks to resolve it, but we are happy it is resolved."

Harris said the district will not be paying any more money to RJB or the workers this year to account for the pay raise. 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 school year.

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Throughout the strike talks, the school district tried to facilitate negotiations between the two sides, while not being a direct party, Harris said.

In a news release Thursday, SEIU Local 1 Institutional Director Lonnel Saffold said the union will continue to negotiate for a better deal in the spring.

"Despite this victory, the fight for a dignified living for our janitors remains," Safford said. "We will continue to have conversations with the community as well as the Barrington school board over the next couple of months leading up to May, when the contract will be renegotiated."

Harris said the contract with RJB is a five-year deal, but the district has the option to change or cancel it each year after a performance review.

"Due to the last two weeks, we will have a renewed effort to looking more critically at some of the contract's terms," Harris said.

Representatives from RJB declined to comment Thursday.

School board President Brian Battle said the board is committed to a full review of the custodial service at Barrington High.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Any time you have a labor dispute like this it would be the responsible thing of the school district and school board to look at all of the issues," Battle said. "We all look forward to sitting down and reviewing those details."

One such detail may be a requirement that workers are compensated at a certain rate. Battle said the school board did not put a similar condition on the latest contract because it had never come up in the 25 years the district has been outsourcing custodial work at Barrington High.

"We've never had any issues with it before, it had always been a good relationship," Battle said.

Battle said that the board also will discuss making the janitors district employees.

Harris said one reason custodial services have been outsourced is because the high school building requires more work than the district's other facilities.

"The high school is really a seven-day-a-week community facility," he said. "It is a nearly 750,000-square-foot building, and we have a full team on site all weekend long, so is it very different from the rest of our schools."

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