Illinois public school custodians in Rockford and Elgin receive no paid sick days and are not paid on school holidays, not even Christmas Day. No one should be forced to choose between spreading illness or sacrificing much-needed pay. Please take a few minutes to email these local school boards and urge them to support the men and women who keep our public schools clean and healthy.
ILLINOIS — “Right to work” hasn’t been a headline in the campaign for Illinois governor, but it could be one of the most controversial topics. The policy for a state, or municipalities inside it, to become a “right to work” community has been a divisive issue in states with large union presences. In Illinois, it could be just as divisive.
A right to work law would end mandatory payment of dues for workers in companies or government organizations with a union presence. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has been on the record saying he would support “right to work” zones where a county or local municipality could decide for itself if it wished to implement the law.
Paul Kersey is labor policy director for the Illinois Policy Institute. It’s a conservative research group. Kersey says “right to work” is about giving employees back their rights.
“Workers can decide for themselves whether or not to join a union. You cannot be forced to join or pay dues or fees to a union as a condition for employment,” Kersey said.
The institute’s research shows right to work states are more attractive to businesses looking for a home.
“Employers want to know if there’s a union in the workplace, and it’s there because the workers really want it there,” Kersey said.
But Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, says the real reason companies look for right to work is because the loss in revenue drains unions’ bargaining power.
“What it will do is weaken workers’ ability to use their collective strength to protect their wages and benefits,” Balanoff said.
Rauner has suggested letting individual communities create right to work zones to attract business. Balanoff said promoting growth by weakening unions is not smart business in the long run.
“If we’re bringing companies in here,” he said, “and we’re telling them come to this state because you won’t have to pay taxes and you can pay workers less than you might pay in other places, that’s not a good idea.”
Balanoff said the biggest issue with right to work is it creates a free-rider system eroding union support. People who don’t pay are still required to be given all of the protections under their union contract. Rauner has said he would not advocate for a statewide right to work law.
On September 17, hundreds of Chicago area residential building engineers, maintenance staff and janitors voted nearly unanimously to ratify a new contract, effective December 1, 2014. The workers won increased pension funding, substantial wage increases and added benefits like more carried over sick time and a paid examination day each year.
Chicago’s residential workers formed SEIU Local 1 in the early 1900s. Learn more about them by watching this video:
At the September 6, 2014, membership meeting, a new SEIU Local 1 Executive Board was elected and sworn in. The slate of nominees was uncontested and the new board members were voted in by acclamation at every SEIU Local 1 membership meeting across our six states. We look forward to the new Executive Board’s leadership. You can read the list of the current board officers and members.
We also celebrate the years of service that the outgoing board members dedicated to their SEIU Local 1 brothers and sisters. Be sure to thank these leaders for all that they have done for working families in the Midwest.
Dave Gathman | email@example.com | Oct. 9 7:27 p.m.
ELGIN — Even as Elgin Community College apparently has settled the issue of possibly outsourcing its custodial duties, custodians who already are working for an outside company in District U46 K-12 schools are involved in a heated labor negotiation. They say they want benefits and pay more equal to that enjoyed by custodian/maintenance people working alongside them who are employed directly by District U46.
District U46 now has two sets of custodian/maintenance people. One group, who work mainly in the daytime, work 40 hours a week. They handle more challenging maintenance duties, work as U46 employees, get a healthy package of benefits and are represented by a union named the Educational Support Service Organization (ESSO). These people have a contract through 2016.
But since 2006 the 180 custodians who clean up all U46 schools at night or work as additional cleaning staff in the daytime at high schools and middle schools, are employed by an outside company named GCA Service Group, based in Knoxville, Tenn. The school district contracted with GCA to provide those services. GCA in turn hires the workers, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
SEIU organizer Carolina Villalobos said the labor contract between that second tier of custodians and GCA expired June 30. As representatives of the union and GCA continue to negotiate, the current contract conditions were extended, but Villalobos said that extension also will expire Oct. 31.
The pay and benefits between the two groups contrast drastically. According to U46’s contract with the ESSO workers, they get 14 paid holidays per year, including the Good Friday “Spring Holiday” and the day after Thanksgiving. They get 10 days of paid vacation after one year on the job, growing to 20 days of vacation after 15 years of service. They get up to 10 days per year of sick leave, which can accrue from year to year without limit.
They also get health insurance, for which they must pay 10 percent of the taxpayers’ cost. They get dental insurance and $30,000 worth of life insurance. And the school district and they share the cost of accumulating pension benefits through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
And their pay ranges from about $14 per hour, for a middle-school night custodian for a relief custodian, to more than $35 per hour for a maintenance foreman.
The GCA custodians, on the other hand, get no benefits at all and make barely more than the minimum wage, according to Kimball Middle School custodian Hugo Barrientos.
Barrientos took his group’s case to the U46 Board of Education this week, asking board members to do whatever they can to influence GCA in the labor talks.
“We are employees but we are also parents,” Barrientos said during the board meeting’s public-comment time. “We work hard to ensure a clean and healthy environment for students, teachers and staff. But we are struggling to make ends meet.”
For example, Barrientos said that because the GCA workers get no sick pay, they often come to school sick, which could spread germs to the children in their schools.
He said later that after working in U46 schools for 12 years — the last eight as a GCA employee — he makes $10.80 an hour for a 35-hour work week. Some of his coworkers make as little as $9, he said.
Barrientos said the GCA people who work in the daytime, as he does, do many of the same thing as their higher-paid, benefits-endowed counterparts who are employed directly by the school district. Besides cleaning the cafeteria after meals, he said, he changes light bulbs and ballasts, shovels snow, and helps students open uncooperative lockers.
GCA officials could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t know what we could do” about the situation, U46 CEO Tony Sanders said after the meeting. He said he believes GCA was chosen by the school district as the lowest-cost responsible vendor to provide such services, and the way they compensate their employees must at least meet the minimum requirements of the state prevailing wage law.
When Elgin Community College recently went looking for an outside company to provide consulting services for its all-in-house custodial work, GCA was one of five companies that submitted a bid. But ECC leaders picked another firm because its fee was much lower and that firm specialized in consulting work.
“We need a strong economy that works for all—not just the wealthy few. Chicago should be the next big city to pay workers the wages they need to provide a decent life for themselves and a better one for their children.” Tom Balanoff, SEIU Local 1 President
The newsletter is available in:
More than 700 SEIU Local 1 members and supporters shared what was important to them and how our union can improve in our 2014 Member and Supporter Survey.
The most important issues to participants were creating good jobs that can support a family and reducing income inequality in our country. The aspects of their jobs they most want to improve are their wages, your retirement benefits and your healthcare.
Local 1 members and supporters are fighting to achieve all of these goals.
Participants – mostly members – described the SEIU Local 1 mission in their own words, but many used the same ones. Words like lead, fight, help, strengthen, organize, advocate and build. SEIU Local 1 members and supporters do all of those things every day without tiring.
As a union and as a country, we face a lot of challenges. Working together is the only way to win better wages and benefits and start addressing income inequality in our country. SEIU Local 1 understands that we are all striving for the same goal and together we can realize it.
Check out the survey results—and thank you for staying connected.
DePaul’s High School Union Summer School will be held July 7-11, 2014. The class is tuition free and each student who attends all five days of the summer school will receive a $100 stipend from the Labor Center. Lunch will be provided for students each day of the program.
To be eligible, students must have completed their freshman, sophomore, junior or senior years of high school. The class is limited to 24 students and will be held at DePaul, 14 E. Jackson, 14th floor, from 9:30-2:30 each day.
Topics include why unions today, collective bargaining role play, tour of Pullman, a role play in which students will evaluate the actions of the participants of the Pullman strike, and a discussion on the future of work.
If you have further questions, contact Bob Breving at 312-362-6802, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob can provide an electronic copy of the short application and waiver that must be filled out for each participating student.