WOODLAND HILLS : 300 Janitors Protest at Warner Center

With a week to go before their current contract expires, about 300 janitors marched through Warner Center on Friday to protest what their union calls "sweatshop conditions."

It was the union's second major protest at Warner Center in as many months. The Service Employees International Union, which represents about 8,500 janitors in the Los Angeles area, has held a series of protests in recent weeks throughout Southern California.

Members of Local 399 marched Friday from Warner Center Lane and Burbank Boulevard to Warner Center, where they were met by riot police. Union members said they had planned to block traffic on Oxnard Boulevard, but changed their minds after police arrived in force.

The scene grew tense as police herded the marchers into a nearby park. The protesters eventually agreed to disperse and there were no arrests or injuries.

Capt. Rich Gonzales of the Los Angeles Police Department's Labor Relations Division said police have been meeting with the union's leaders to try to keep the protests peaceful. He said other protests by the union in recent weeks have resulted in arrests.

The union says International Servisystems, which manages maintenance for Warner Center, has refused to compromise. Most union workers in the Valley earn $4.25 to $4.70 an hour and receive no benefits, the union said. The union's proposed contract would increase workers' pay to $6.80 over three years and provide benefits.

Jono Shaffer, organizing coordinator for the union, said International Servisystems has proposed no raises for three years and then 5-cents-an-hour raises each year for the next five years. There would be no benefits, said Shaffer.

Representatives from Denmark-based International Servisystems could not be reached for comment.

Union members say buildings in Warner Center have some of the highest rents in Los Angeles County so there should be plenty of money available to pay the janitors better. The corporation, Shaffer said, is shirking its duty by not paying benefits, and that burden will be passed along to taxpayers.

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