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Northeastern students protest janitors’ low wages, work policy

Northeastern University students gathered in the pouring rain Monday evening to wrap up their weekend-long protest of their school’s treatment of its janitorial staff, demanding school administrators clean up their act and provide better wages and benefits.

Chanting “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, poverty wages got to go,” students marched from Boston Common to Northeastern President Joseph Aoun’s $7.5 million home on Beacon Street.

Northeastern law professor Karl Klare addressed the drenched crowd.

“It’s frustrating, it’s wet,” he said. “Northeastern hasn’t responded to your demands but you have chosen the right thing to do.”

Northeastern law student Nathanael Player said he chose to attend Northeastern because of its reputation as a school with a social conscience, but was appalled when he found out about the treatment of the university’s janitors.

Northeastern contracts a company to hire and manage its custodial staff. Player said hiring out the management creates a lack of accountability, allowing the school to pass blame to the firms that manage the custodians.

However, Northeastern pays the janitors, and the school is accountable for the treatment of its employees, Player said. The janitors’ base pay is $13.25 per hour and they have three sick days per year. An employee who has worked at Northeastern for 12 years makes $13.40 per hour.

Player said the majority of janitors are assigned 28-hour workweeks, but Northeastern requires 29 hours of work a week to receive health benefits.

Jessie Jolly, a recent Northeastern alumna, said the protesters have collected nearly 2,000 student signatures to a petition protesting the working conditions.

“Since Northeastern gets 80 percent of its revenue from student tuition, it is ridiculous and irresponsible that they are using the money in a way that is disagreeable to so many students,” she said.

College students seeking social justice for janitors is nothing new. In 2005, Harvard students launched a campaign to earn better treatment for their janitors and the university responded in by increasing janitors’ wages, according to an Oct. 11, 2005 Harvard Crimson article.

Justice for Janitors, an offshoot of the Service Employees International Union that underlies both the Harvard and Northeastern movements, advocates better wages, basic benefits and job security for janitors and has nearly two million members, according to the group’s website.

One of the protesters, Roxana Rivera, said Boston University janitors receive far better treatment, partially because BU does not outsource its hiring, resulting in more “livable” wages.

BU assistant Vice President of Facilities Management William Walter could not be reached for comment.

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