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Brandeis workers get new contrac

Cleaning jobs to pay same wage

Cleaning employees at Brandeis will be paid the same, whether or not they work directly for the university.

A five-year contract ratified Aug. 3 by Service Employees Unternational Union Local 615, which represents both groups of custodial workers, includes an agreement between the university and two companies that it had subcontracted to clean on nights and weekends. Effective retroactively to July 1 of this year, workers for Hurley of America and SJD Inc. will now be paid a base rate of $14.63 per hour, up from $11.60 per hour.

Brandeis will pay the $3.13 difference in wages, but university officials would not disclose how much it would cost. University spokesman David Nathan said the work had been outsourced not to save money but because under their old contract, university employees could not be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.

''We take seriously our responsibility, rooted in the university's foundational pillar of social justice, to offer competitive and equitable wages," said Peter French, the university's executive vice president and chief operating officer. ''We are pleased to have the opportunity to directly employ every night and evening custodian working at Brandeis. This is a contract in which everybody wins."

About 20 workers from Hurley and SJD supplement Brandeis's custodial force of 65. The contract with the outside companies expires Aug. 1, 2006, and Brandeis said advertisements for in-house positions to cover night and weekend shifts would be posted a month before that. Any interested workers, including those currently working for the outside companies, can apply, said Nathan.

Some of the contracted workers told the Globe in February that they had been reluctant to apply directly to Brandeis for a job because they thought interviews could only be conducted in English. Nathan said no such language requirement exists. ''There's no requirement that they be fluent, but a rudimentary understanding [of English] would be helpful," he said.

Dan Nicolai, an organizer for Local 615, said that the union would be working with student groups like the Brandeis Labor Coalition to help the workers improve their English. Made up of students and faculty, the group has been lobbying the university and the companies it contracts with for better working conditions and wages since 2002. In February, it organized a panel discussion featuring three workers from El Salvador about what brought them to the United States and their difficulties working here.

Erin Hull, a member of the coalition, called the new contract ''a great victory." Hull, who graduated in May, said he and other alumni may gather donations to help defray the cost of the wage increase.

Josh Rosenthal, another coalition member who will be a junior in the fall, said that the group would next focus on building relationships between students and the support workers.

Nicolai said that the support of the Brandeis Labor Coalition and other students and faculty was ''absolutely critical" to winning the wage increase. He also credited university employees for fighting on behalf of the contract workers.

In recent years, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have agreed to pay outsourced workers the same wage as their own employees.

Nicolai said the Brandeis agreement would help his union persuade other universities to accept similar arrangements.

Stephanie V. Siek can be reached at ssiek@globe.com.

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