Bayer Corp. Janitors Could Be In a Messy Situation By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday August 16, 2005

Bayer Corp. is considering laying off 54 janitors at its Berkeley facility. The jobs would be contracted out to a firm that pays its employees nearly half what current Bayer janitors make, according to union officials. 

“They have been telling us for four months that they are planning to contract out the janitorial positions,” said Donald Mahon, business agent for the International Longshoreman’s Warehouse Union, which represents about 250 Bayer employees. 

But Mahon said late Monday that there appeared to be movement in contract negotiations and that the fate of the janitors would likely be known in the coming week. 

Bayer spokesperson Clelia Baur said the pharmaceutical company retained the right to contract out the jobs, but that it hadn’t determined if it would go that route. 

“Nothing’s been decided yet, so it wouldn’t be the appropriate time to talk about this publicly,” she said. 

The current three-year contract covering all union employees at Bayer expires Aug. 25. Both sides have been meeting daily trying to hammer out a new deal, Mahon said. The janitors are the only classification whose jobs are threatened. 

Mahon said Bayer was planning to contract out the janitorial jobs to a firm that employed workers represented by Service Workers International Union Local 1877. Under the SEIU contract, the new janitors would make $11 an hour compared to $20.29 an hour currently earned by janitors at Bayer. 

“Bayer said it was costing them more than $2 million a year to keep the workers,” according to Mahon. 

In recent years many large employers have subcontracted out their janitorial jobs to save money,” said SEIU Local 1877 Staff Director Andrea Dehlendorf. She added that her union would oppose any effort by Bayer to contract out the jobs. 

“We support the ILWU completely in keeping higher [salary] standards,” she said. 

Dehlendorf said the $11 an hour plus health care benefits that SEIU has negotiated for over 6,000 janitors working for subcontractors represented a major victory for the workers. 

“In the absence of having a union they would make minimum wage and have no health insurance,” she said. 

Since signing an agreement with Berkeley over a decade ago to expand its facility, Bayer has roughly doubled the number of union employees, Mahon said. Besides janitors, the ILWU represents Bayer maintenance workers, lab technicians, craftsmen and maintenance staff. 

Mahon said Bayer was asking all of its workers to pay more for health benefits under a new contract.