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Union representing janitors averts strike

A janitors strike that would have hit several thousand office buildings in the Boston area was averted late Friday when their union reached a settlement with the region’s cleaning companies.

The tentative agreement was described by the union as one of the strongest contracts negotiated for local janitors. It includes a 12 percent pay raise for all of the 13,000 workers over the next four years; comprehensive family health benefits at no cost for 3,500 full-time employees; a commitment to convert hundreds of part-time positions to full time in Boston and Cambridge office buildings; and a minimum four-hour shift established for all part-time workers.

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By the end of the four-year contract, about 9,000 janitors who work in buildings in the metro Boston area will be earning $20 an hour.

The contract must be ratified by a vote from the janitors, who are members of the 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. A vote is scheduled for next week.

“This agreement honors the valuable contributions of the hard-working men and women who make Greater Boston strong,” Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said in a statement moments after negotiations ended. “With this contract we are moving forward together to make our city and the whole Commonwealth work for everyone.”

In a statement, the Maintenance Contractors of New England, the consortium representing 20 of the largest building service contractors in the area, said: “We believe this contract is good for the union and its members and is in the best interest of the Greater Boston real estate community.”

Thousands of janitors, who clean about 2,000 office buildings in Boston and surrounding communities, had taken to the streets over several weekends in the last month, staging rallies and approving a strike if a deal was not reached by Saturday. They clean buildings that house high-profile companies, including Biogen, Liberty Mutual, the Federal Reserve, and Vertex, as well as The Boston Globe and MBTA buildings and institutions including Northeastern, Simmons, and New England Conservatory.

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Making up a mostly immigrant and part-time workforce, the janitors have successfully fought for better wages over several contracts since 2002, when most of them were paid $9 per hour. Since 2012, the janitors’ union worked with the contractors to create more than 700 new full-time positions in Boston’s central business district, covering towering high-rises including the Prudential Center and 200 Clarendon (formerly the John Hancock Tower). By 2020, the number of full-time janitor positions will grow to 4,000, if the contract is ratified.

The contractors also committed to increasing employer contributions to the pension and training funds and to establish a legal-services fund for members to help them with everything from buying a house to immigration issues.

The union’s push for better benefits comes at a time when commercial building owners in Boston and Cambridge are reaping the benefits of a booming economy with very low vacancy rates and high rents.

The union janitors have consecutively approved strike actions in 2002, 2007, and 2012. Strikes were avoided in the last two bargaining sessions, but in 2002 the workers went on a 30-day work stoppage before a contract agreement was reached.


Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.