Janitor Fights For Extra Hour

Moura shares personal story at bargaining table

Folasade Jimoh

Jeffrey Moura, a custodial worker at the Graduate School of Education, is involved in a campaign to win health benefits for janitors.

At around 6 p.m. on weeknights, Portuguese accents and laughter fill Larsen Hall at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) as janitor Jeffrey Moura enters to clean the building with his father and his neighbors.

Clad in a Red Sox cap, black Nikes, and a bright mustard-colored shirt, Moura, 24, arrives at Harvard after finishing his shifts at two other jobs—assembling light fixtures at a local distributor and buffing floors in a hair parlor.

From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Moura speeds from job to job, working alongside his father to make ends meet for their close-knit East Cambridge household.

But in addition to juggling his busy schedule, Moura has recently joined a union campaign to win health benefits for himself and other janitors.

According to a 2002 agreement between Local 615 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the University, all janitors working sixteen hours a week are entitled to health care benefits.

Moura and his co-workers, subcontracted employees of Prospect Building Service, just miss the cut with contracts for fifteen hours.

“The One Hour Campaign” is the union’s latest tool to convince the University to extend the janitors’ hours.

For his part, Moura is bringing personal experience to the bargaining table in an effort to add a human dimension to a union struggle.

ONE MORE HOUR

Moura wakes up at 5 a.m. five days a week to commute to his first job, where he works on his feet all day assembling parts for carpet displays and lamp fixtures.

When Moura has time after his first job, which usually lasts until mid-afternoon, he often drives across town to help his father earn a little extra cash.

“We work at a hair parlor buffing and waxing the floors. Then we go home, eat really quickly, and come straight here [to Harvard],” Moura says.

But instead of buffing floors on the other side of Boston last Friday, Moura had an appointment with his local union representative, Courtney Snegroff, and James LaBua, deputy director of Harvard’s Office of Labor and Employee Relations (OLER), which oversees all labor policy implementation and contract negotiations.

As a newly-elected union steward, Moura came to speak on behalf of his co-workers at the GSE—the only janitors on Harvard’s campus who do not have health benefits because they are short one hour.

He says he explained to LaBua why they need the benefits.

“There are two women here and they get Social Security but they get very little at their other jobs,” Moura says. “There’s a woman who pays over $1,000 a month on medication who needs pills for her diabetes.”