Thousands of Chicago Janitors Vote “Yes” to Authorize a Strike

Local 1 janitors in Chicagoland clean the buildings and office space of some of the richest companies in the world. These corporations are making huge profits, but the janitors’ wages haven’t increased in real dollars in more than a decade. On Saturday, March 31, they voted to give their bargaining committee the power to call a strike.

The union hall was electric with energy as members filled every available space in the room and hundreds more rallied outside the doors. Voting by color – purple for yes, yellow for no – a sea of waving purple signs filled the standing-room only hall and the parking lot outside. The janitors, who are tired of working hard just to keep their families out of poverty, called on building owners and corporations to do their part and create good middle class jobs for our city.

After the YES vote, the janitors streamed outside to join their fellow members, chanting “We Are the 99%” and “Yes We Can!” in three different languages. A press conference broadcast the energy and the janitors’ message across the city. Janitors are ready to do whatever it takes to win better jobs for their families and communities.

“Like so many Chicagoans, I work hard and still worry how I’ll pay the rent or buy food for my family. I know the companies that own these buildings can afford to support good jobs for our families and our neighborhoods,” says Urszula Przybysz, a Chicago janitor.

Contracts for 13,000 janitors in Chicago expire on April 8. During the next week, the janitors will bargain with BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) for livable wages and critical benefits for their families. These janitors are struggling to get by on an annual income that is $20,000 below the cost of living for a family in Chicago.

“We hope Chicago’s major building owners live up to good business practices and support the good jobs with benefits that will help our economy grow,” says Tom Balanoff, President of SEIU Local 1.

The strong “yes” vote to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike comes as our country is in the midst of massive public protest over the disappearing middle class and increasing income inequality between the richest 1% and the other 99% of the country. While the U.S. economy has grown by more than 80% in the past 30 years, a majority of those gains in wealth have gone to the richest Americans while income for 95 percent of American households has either stayed the same or fallen.

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