Union hopes to improve lot of Boston parking attendants

November 11, 2014

“Through rain or shine, snow or sleet . . .” is an adage typically associated with postal carriers, but it could just as easily apply to parking attendants. “I’ve worked some cold, cold days. It’s been 40 below with the wind-chill factor,” Julius Poelinitz told the Chicago Tribune before he retired in 1986 after spending 31 years as a parking attendant.

parking lot cabin

Parking lot attendants have tough lives – facing bad weather and cranky customers, often without food or bathroom breaks. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is seeking to use collective bargaining to improve their lot. From grifray.

Workplace conditions for some attendants have barely improved in the intervening years. For one Somali immigrant, an 18-year veteran of Boston’s parking lots who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, none of the booths in which he’s been stationed have air conditioning, and in the summer, the heat serves up garbage odors he describes as almost unbearable.

“I’m feeling like back home in Africa,” he told the Boston Globe. “I’m not feeling like America’s free.”

That sense of oppression has galvanized Teamsters Local 25 to organize the approximately 1,600 workers in Boston’s parking industry in an effort to better their working conditions. At companies where workers have organized, they’ve been able to successfully lobby for more paid holidays and sick leave, mandated meal and bathroom breaks, and wage increases of roughly 3% annually, bringing average pay to $12 per hour.

Nationwide, parking attendants earn a median yearly salary of $29,824, according to Salary.com, with those on the West Coast receiving higher than average rates and those in the South and northeast region receiving wages below the national average.

Union members have also been able to negotiate for a pension plan, heating and air conditioning, and bathrooms. The parking attendant to whom the Boston Globe spoke said that LAZ Parking, where he works, has no bathroom at the lot he’s assigned, so during the day, he shuts the door of his booth and urinates in a plastic bottle pulled from the trash. At night at a different lot, he goes between cars.

The successes of the Teamsters over its two-year campaign have yielded contracts with five parking companies in the city so far. The group forecasts contracts with three other major businesses in the area, as well as numerous smaller organizations, in 2015. Across the country, the Teamsters count about 20,000 attendants among its members, with longtime members in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago—Poelinitz was a trustee on the executive board of Local 727, for example.

Sean O’Brien, president of Local 25, said the group’s push to unionize parking attendants is part of a larger effort to increase membership. “Growth is germane to our survival as a labor organization,” he said. “The biggest thing we have achieved is respect in the workplace—again without any retribution or retaliation.”

The organization’s campaign in Boston will also diversify its ranks; many parking attendants in the area hail from East Africa. Their membership in the Teamsters will move its image past the stereotypical “white Irish/Italian truck driver,” said O’Brien.

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