Happy Holidays from the 1 percent
How Christmas was stolen from Bessie Hervey and eleven other Downtown Milwaukee janitors
MILWAUKEE – Bessie Hervey had cleaned the 875 E. Wisconsin Ave. building since it opened in 2002. On December 1, just in time for Christmas, she and her 11 co-workers were replaced by cleaners paid poverty wages and no health benefits.
Bessie and her coworkers are union janitors, represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – Local 1. The new cleaners hired by the property owner, Wangard Partners, are nonunion workers paid less than $8.00 an hour. A union janitor makes $11 an hour.
“We were promised that the new company would offer jobs to the janitors,” Bessie said, describing the typical process when building management changes janitorial companies. Neither Wangard nor the new cleaning company followed through on this promise.
Hervey was one of several janitors, employed by Regency Janitorial Services, who had cleaned the building since it opened. She has never missed a day of work, never being written up, and she has been cleaning major office buildings in Downtown Milwaukee for nearly 20 years.
Bessie was part of the long fight to lift wages for janitors and other downtown workers from $4.25 per hour with no health insurance to the current $11 an hour with union health insurance. Now that she is not working, Bessie will lose the union health insurance.
“For the past 20 years janitors fought hard to make a measly $11 an hour, and now Wangard wants to take us back to where we were,” said Pete Hanrahan, vice president of Hervey’s union, SEIU Local 1. “Wangard is picking janitors’ pockets to line his wallet,” Hanrahan said.
SEIU Local 1 represents over 1,000 janitors and other workers in Downtown Milwaukee, including the vast majority of major office buildings, Marquette janitors and food service workers, and Miller Park ushers and grounds crew.
“This isn’t just about me and my job,” Bessie said. “This is about all of us who work hard downtown — US Bank building, Chase Bank, Grand Ave. — and have fought for years to get what little we’ve got. If they can take my job, they can take everybody’s job, and it will be like a domino effect.
“We have to fight now to protect all of our jobs.”