Janitors in Rhode Island and Massachusetts secured a new contract with a group of maintenance contractors in September, a deal negotiated by Service Employers International Union (SEIU). The 12,000 members of SEIU Local 615 negotiated with the Maintenance Contractors Association of New England for significant wage increases and benefits. They are the latest to benefit from the union’s growth and galvanization throughout the country recently.

“It’s been pretty incredible to see the kind of momentum that’s been happening the last year and a half, even with workers everywhere, including in right-to-work states, beginning to form a union,” says Lynda Tran, SEIU spokeswoman.

Janitors in major cities including Miami, Houston and the Twin Cities, have secured improved contracts — with higher wages, benefits and sick time — within the past few years.

Most recently, Cincinnati janitors reached a first-ever city-wide contract with eight cleaning companies. That situation was innovative, Tran says, in that union members from Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, were working with the Cincinnati janitors. They were attending bargaining sessions together because the same companies drive the real estate industries in all three cities. Janitors in Columbus have already begun bargaining, she adds.

The trend of janitors working across city and state lines to help their peers has been building for a long time, Tran says.

“In some of the major campaigns that happened last year for example, like in Houston and in Miami, janitors in other cities who work for the same cleaning companies and clean buildings owned by the same building owners came out to support janitors who were organizing and winning their first contracts, because they know that if those workers are permitted to go on living in poverty, that their own gains that they’ve made in the past in their own cities are threatened,” Tran says.

Study: No Health Benefits From Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial soaps do not show health benefits compared to simple bath soaps, according to a University of Michigan School of Public Health report released in August.

“Antibacterial soaps at formulations sold to the public do not remove any more bacteria from the hands during washing than plain soaps,” states the study, which was published in the academic journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) expressed dissatisfaction with the journal article, saying it had been marketed to attack antibacterial products. The SDA refutes the study, saying that other studies presented to the Food and Drug Administration have shown bacteria reduction on the hands from use of antibacterial soaps. The SDA also takes issue with the study’s link between the use of topical antimicrobial products to antibiotic resistance.

The main active ingredient in antibacterial soaps is triclosan, and soaps with triclosan are no more effective than plan soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms, the study’s research director stated.

The conclusion is based on 27 studies conducted between 1980 and 2006 that scrutinized consumer soaps that contained triclosan.

Illinois Green initiatives were signed into law in August, including the Green Clean Schools Act and grants for green cleaning. The Green Clean Schools statute requires public and private elementary and secondary schools to establish a green cleaning policy and purchase and use only environmentally sensitive cleaning products. The Illinois Green Government Coordinating Council will issue guidelines, to which the schools must adhere within 90 days. However, schools may deplete their current stock of cleaning products before they must use the new green products.

The grant programs, Smart Cities and Green Cities, are designed to promote economic development while preserving and cleaning up the environment. Green Cities provides state grants through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to municipalities that have buildings that conform to nationally recognized green building guidelines. Green technology, including environmentally friendly cleaning products and low-flow toilets, would be funded through the Smart Cities grants.