RTD sets pay, health policy for janitors
By Kevin Flynn, Rocky Mountain News
August 16, 2006
The Regional Transportation District adopted a policy Tuesday of requiring any of its private janitorial contractors to pay its workers at least $10.50 an hour and provide them with health coverage.
The policy, unprecedented among national transit agencies, is likely to increase the cost that RTD pays to hire private firms to clean and maintain five of its buildings, but that's a tradeoff a majority of board members say is "worker supportive" and worth the price.
Two of 11 board members who were present voted against the policy, calling it social engineering and setting a bad precedent.
"In reality, this is the camel's nose under the tent," Wally Pulliam said, calling it a "slippery slope" that could lead to more costly concessions. "The law of unintended consequences is there."
In the new policy, RTD agrees to pay up to $235 a month for each full-time janitorial worker to help the private firms subsidize the cost of health care policies equivalent to that negotiated with Kaiser Permanente by Service Employees International Union Local 105.
SEIU represents many janitorial workers in the Denver area, including those who work under RTD's expiring janitorial contract with BG Maintenance. The union began to push for the policy in the spring after a non-union company, Service Solutions Inc., underbid BG for a renewal of the RTD contract.
Under pressure from the union, the RTD board suspended the bidding process while it debated the proposed new policy. BG won an extension of the old contract through December, but now RTD will once again seek janitorial bids.
Pulliam said RTD "broke its word" by stopping the bidding process.
"We had a valid bid on the table," he said. He was inclined to support the new policy earlier but voted against it because SEIU began to lobby for another provision that would have required new janitorial bidders to retain the losing company's employees for at least 30 days.
The board rejected that option.
Board member Dave Ruchman agreed with Pulliam that the policy sets a precedent, but that it's a good one that helps workers.
"We have an opportunity to do the right thing here," he said.
Member Bill McMullen agreed.
"Talk about slippery slopes, we went on a slippery slope when we stopped doing our janitorial work in-house and contracted this out," McMullen said, arguing the bidding process results in companies slashing health care coverage and wages in order to win contracts for the least cost.
Supporters of the policy, including SEIU Local 105 President Mitch Ackerman, said it will help level the playing field among bidders. And he objected to calling it "social engineering" to require higher wages and health coverage for janitorial workers.
"The low-bid policy was also social engineering," Ackerman said. "It's a race to take the workers to the bottom. Building a community can't be done with $5.15-an-hour jobs."
Board member Stephen Millard joined Pulliam in voting against the policy.