KC school janitors rally for cleanliness and good pay at board meeting

Janitors who work in Kansas City Public Schools rallied membership to attend the district’s board meeting Wednesday to persuade school leaders to opt for unionized custodians to clean their middle and high school buildings.

About 20 members of Service Employees International Union Local 1 attended the meeting, having called on the board to “select a contractor that offers janitors a voice on the job,” said Nick Desideri, a union spokesman. “The board’s final decision will have a massive impact on cleanliness standards at all schools across the district.”

The board took no action Wednesday.

School district administrators have recommended that the board approve a new and more than $10 million three-year contract with Marcis & Associates beginning July 1.

If approved by the board of education, Marcis would serve the district’s middle and high schools.

“We are going with what we believe to be the lowest and best,” said Al Tunis, interim superintendent.

Tunis said going with an outside company rather than an in-district custodial service saves the district “a little more than $1 million a year, mostly in salaries and benefits.”

While the district has outsourced janitorial work for its middle and high schools, its elementary schools are cleaned by a district-employed custodial staff.

The district recently reached a contract agreement with those employees that goes through June 2017. Some of the district-employed janitors are union members.

Union officials argued that the company now cleaning the middle and high schools does not recognize union workers and has “cut corners” in pay and staffing that have left the schools less clean.

The current custodial company serving the district’s middle and high schools, GCA Services Group, which is based in Cleveland, was not available Wednesday for comment.

Union officials want school board members to consider contracting with a company that employs union workers, “is a responsible employer, pays a good wage, gives workers a voice on the job and won’t short-staff buildings,” Desideri said.

The union workers’ appearance at the meeting Wednesday was meant to signal their interest in the contract, Desideri said.

“We’re here, we’re watching, but we’re ready to find a solution,” he said.

Marcis & Associates currently does not employ any union workers. “But we welcome anyone who is qualified to work with our company, union or non-union,” said Julio Cisneros, president at Marcis.

Tunis said one reason district administrators are recommending a new janitorial company is because it had concerns with GCA’s ability to service the contract.

SEIU Local 1 unites nearly 4,000 workers in Kansas City, including school cafeteria workers and commercial janitors. According to information on the SEIU website, the average janitor in the Kansas City area makes $1,295 a month — well below the poverty line in Kansas City.

Nationally SEIU has been an outspoken supporter of the nationwide fight for $15-an-hour wage.

The Star’s Ian Cummings contributed to this report.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc