A group of unionized janitors, represented by Local 615 of the Service Employees International Union, voted Saturday to authorize a strike if they are unable to reach a new agreement with employers before their contract expires at the end of the month.
The unanimous vote came amid an energetic rally, calling for benefits and higher wages. Union leaders said many janitors are kept just below the threshold of 29 hours a week needed to qualify for health benefits.
"Hard work has to provide dignified wages and benefits that will allow you to support your family," said Rocio Saenz, president of Local 615 of the SEIU.
The union also cited reports of workers being met with illegal threats and intimidation.
"We believe we made good progress at the bargaining table last week," said Matt Ellis, spokesman for Maintenance Contractors of New England, which represents the contractors that employ the janitors. "We're hopeful we'll be able to make more progress when we get back to the table on Monday."
Local 615 represents 18,000 property service workers — including 14,000 janitors — in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The union's last strike was 10 years ago and lasted for one month.
The current contract for all 14,000 New England janitors is set to expire on Sept. 30.
With additional reporting by The Associated Press.
This article was originally published on September 22, 2012.
This program aired on September 22, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.