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BU custodians, trade workers rally for pay raise

Anna Lamb
BU custodians, trade workers rally for pay raise
32BJ SEIU Executive Vice President Roxanna Rivera (center) leads workers during a march last week. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

Union representatives, elected officials and labor activists joined Boston University custodians Thursday afternoon to demand better wages and benefits as compensation for the custodial staff’s uninterrupted work throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Hosted by the Local 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), nearly 100 people gathered on BU’s campus to hear speeches and join in a brief march to the school’s administrative building.

Among those gathered was City Council President Ed Flynn, who commended the workers on their commitment to their jobs and urged the school to recognize their labor.

“During this pandemic, you worked, you helped so many people in need, you didn’t give up on the students, you didn’t give up on this institution. You put your own health at risk. You put your families’ health at risk … You should get healthcare, dignity in retirement,” he said. “The Boston City Council supports you during these difficult days.”

City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, also in attendance Thursday, echoed Flynn, adding her support to the cause.

“You all worked during the pandemic. You worked with no recess, no break, putting yourselves at risk,” she said.

Louijeune mentioned her father, who works in the cafeteria at Northeastern University.

“So this work is personal,” she said.

According to 32BJ, the union contract will impact over 700 custodians, trades, grounds and maintenance workers at the university whose contract is set to expire this week. Their last contract negotiation was in 2019, during which union members fought to be moved into the preferred provider organization (PPO) health plan in an effort to lower premiums and receive better coverage.

Now, union representatives say the university is “cutting corners” with first-round negotiations, offering proposed raises of 2.5% within the next year. A press release from 32BJ calls the raise “not nearly enough to keep up with inflation.” At the same time, they say, BU is trying to lower the accrual and use of sick days and limiting higher earning opportunities for skilled trades within the university.

“My son is sick. I rely on this health care … We need better wages, better health care and better everything,” AJ, a carpenter at BU, said Thursday.

Matt Banks, another staffer and member of the bargaining committee, promised that the team would continue to demand more from BU in their continued negotiations.

“The offers they have made us, that they insist are comprehensive and respectful, they are insulting. We will not accept anything less than we deserve,” he said.

Throughout the rally, speakers highlighted the economic gain that the university has experienced, including a nearly $1 billion boost to their endowment over the last fiscal year. According to BU’s alumni publication, between 2020 and 2021, the university’s endowment grew 41%, to a total of $3.35 billion.

“Do you think they have enough money to give you healthcare? Do you think they have enough money to give you better wages? Do you think they have a retirement plan that is better than yours?” Darlene Lombos, executive secretary of the Greater Boston Labor Council, asked.

She reassured the crowd, “When we fight together, we win together.”

Contract negotiations are expected to be finalized sometime this week.

Boston University, SEIU 32BJ, Service Employees International Union