McDonald’s restaurant crew member Dwight Murray has worked four years for the fast-food giant, pulls downs $8 an hour and also relies on food stamps to help support himself and a daughter.
The 27-year-old said he needs food stamps because his barely above-minimum wage doesn’t stretch far enough, even when he works a full 40-hour week.
“There’s no money left for groceries,” Murray says.
Which is why Murray decided to march Tuesday in front of the McDonald’s at 16th and Meridian streets in Indianapolis as part of a union-organized protest in 20 cities of the low wages that are common in the fast-food industry.
“We can’t afford to support ourselves and our families,” said Murray, who marched outside the restaurant over the lunch hour in his black McDonald’s uniform shirt. “To me, if we work here, why do we have to depend on Social Security and food stamps?”
The rally by the Fight for 15 campaign, which has support from the Service Employees International Union and Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, cites a new study by the University of California-Berkeley that found 52 percent of line workers at fast-food restaurants must rely on food stamps or other forms of public assistance to support their families.
The total taxpayer tab for welfare for fast-food workers: nearly $7 billion a year, according to the study. About $1.2 billion of assistance goes to McDonald’s workers alone, the study says.
It was that whopping tax-supported assistance that prompted Fran Quigley, a law professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, to hang a placard in Spanish around his neck saying “Huelga Por 15” and join the 17-person rally.
“I am tired of subsidizing the McDonald’s poverty-level wages,” Quigley said. “The cheap food we enjoy comes at a cost to us — in public assistance.”
In a statement Tuesday, McDonald’s said its wages “are based on local wage laws and are competitive to similar jobs in that market. We also provide training and professional development opportunities to anyone that works in one of our restaurants.”
Rally organizers want the Indiana legislature to increase the state’s $7.25 minimum wage, said Nancy Guyott, president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO, who briefly marched in the rally.
Big fast-food franchises “have the means to do that (raise wages) but instead they are shifting the cost to the taxpayers,” she said. “This is a societal problem we need to fix.”
Bill Church, a Carmel restaurant franchise consultant who also is president of the Mr. Dan’s hamburger chain in Indianapolis, said fast-food operators operate on thin profit margins and raising wages is “not feasible” for most. “You just can’t make dollars out of thin air to pay people (more),” he said.
And low wages are hardly confined to the fast-food industry, Church said. “Movie theaters and car washes. There are a lot of other industries as well … in that same pay scale.”
Rally organizers said they aren’t asking the public to boycott McDonald’s or other fast-food franchises over the wages they pay.
Call Star reporter Jeff Swiatek at (317) 444-6483. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSwiatek.
Earlier this week, in a dimly lit, overcrowded room in the basement of Jordan Hall on Butler University’s Northside campus, an event occurred with huge significance for the Indiana economy.
The economic leaders in that room were not business executives or politicians wearing suits and ties. They were cooks and cashiers and dishwashers, wearing black uniform shirts and pants along with chef hats and hairnets. For many, their clothes and their faces showed the effects of a long shift on their feet, cooking and serving meals and cleaning up afterward.
These Hoosiers are workers at Butler’s food-service operation, sub-contracted by the university to multi-national company Aramark. At their meeting this week, the workers approved their first contract, an agreement negotiated by their co-workers and their new union, UNITE HERE.
After eight months of negotiations — and some worker protests and displays of community and student support — the company and its
workers agreed to terms that included immediate raises and sustained wage increases over the life of the four-year contract. Starting salaries will be higher, health-care costs will drop, and the company agreed to match contributions to a 401(k) retirement plan. The contract also includes improved access to year-round employment, a critical issue for on-campus workers.
In reaching these terms, these Butler workers joined food service and campus operations workers at Marian University, who agreed to similar terms with Aramark last week. These new contracts mean that 500 service and hospitality workers, including workers at IUPUI and the Indianapolis International Airport, are now receiving higher wages and better benefits thanks to recent union contracts. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is working to earn similar contracts for our city’s janitors and security guards.
These developments are good news for all Hoosiers. For many of our neighbors, service-sector jobs are the only work available in our modern economy. These are sustainable jobs, an important feature in a state scarred by the exodus of high-paying manufacturing work. The tasks of washing dishes, cleaning hotel rooms and cooking meals are jobs that cannot be outsourced to a Bangladeshi sweatshop or to a call center overseas.
The workers at Butler, Marian and beyond are proving that such jobs have dignity, and do not have to be characterized by low pay and uncertain tenure. This week’s result is not an anomaly: Unionization of service-sector work has been shown to reliably and significantly increase workers’ wages and benefits.
In the early and mid-20th century, the union movement turned once low-paying manufacturing jobs into solid careers that allowed workers to buy homes and send their kids to college. Workers joining together can do the same for service-sector jobs today. Across Indianapolis, they have already started doing just that.
Quigley is a clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.
The chants of three dozen janitors and their supporters, accompanied by the boom of a large bass drum, echoed off the sides of the massive Chase Tower on Monument Circle during last Thursday afternoon’s rush hour.
The janitors are members of Service Employees International Union Local 1, and they were complaining about the wages paid by the contractor ABM. The multinational corporation employs the workers who clean the Chase Tower and several other office buildings downtown. The rally comes on the heels of recent janitors’ strikes in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. The janitors begin contract negotiations with the company in December.
“We and the other members of the contractors association are committed to reaching an agreement in the mutual best interest of all involved parties – employees, companies and customers alike,” said Chas Strong, spokesperson for ABM. “The current collective bargaining agreement, which was negotiated by the union, provides employees with wages and benefits – all according to the terms approved by the union and its membership. We look forward to the beginning of negotiations next month and will work hard at the bargaining table to achieve a successful resolution.”
According to the SEIU, the median salary for janitors in Indianapolis is less than $14,000 a year, and many of the workers are forced to rely on taxpayer-funded programs to meet basic needs such as healthcare, food, and housing.
Author Campbell has something to say to Indianapolis citizens who are concerned about poverty in our city: “Let’s make the jobs we have pay a wage that allows a family to afford the costs of living.”
Campbell works cleaning an Eli Lilly and Co. building, and he is a steward for SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1. The union represents a group of 700 local workers who clean the majority of downtown Indianapolis’ office space, including the offices for Eli Lilly, Simon Property Group and WellPoint.
Most of these janitors are paid around $9 per hour by contractors, and are usually given less than 30 hours a week of work. They have no retirement plan.
Campbell and other union leaders began negotiations with the contractors this week.
“We want janitors here to be able to support a family with their work,” Campbell says, pointing out that janitors in other cities often make several dollars per hour more than their counterparts in Indianapolis. “We want better wages and health care that is affordable.”
Some Indianapolis janitors have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Enriqueta Sanchez works one job during the day and at night cleans offices at the 300 North Meridian building, one of the city’s tallest buildings and home to some of the community’s most prestigious law and accounting firms.
Sanchez picks up garbage, mops floors and vacuums carpets until midnight. It is an exhausting double-shift routine, but she sees no other choice. With low wages, it takes two jobs to pay the bills.
After six years of working for GSF-USA cleaning office buildings, Sanchez makes $8.90 per hour. According to GSF-USA’s website, its parent company Group Services France employs more than 25,000 people worldwide. The company’s most recent reported revenue, for 2008, was more than $700 million. GSF did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment for this article.
Union members also argue that Indiana taxpayers are helping subsidize these cleaning companies by footing the bill for their employees’ health care. Sanchez’s grandchildren are on Medicaid, and Sanchez is among many janitors who use the Wishard-Eskenazi Health clinics or emergency room because they cannot afford the employer’s offered health insurance.
Campbell says the workers’ concerns are not just about the numbers on the paycheck. They want to be recognized for their work in a way that allows them to care for themselves and their loved ones, something he says every working person deserves. “Most of all, it is about self-dignity,” Campbell says.
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Enriqueta Sanchez is hard to catch at home.
I have been told that I will get a chance to talk to her beginning at 4:20 p.m. Sure enough, Sanchez pulls up at 4:19 to the house near Fountain Square she rents along with her three children and four grandchildren. Sanchez’s 2-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany, rushes out to greet her.
Tiffany has limited time with her abuela, since Sanchez will be home for only about an hour. Even though she has just finished a full shift cleaning Downtown hotel rooms, Sanchez’s work day is only half done. After a quick dinner, she will head out the door, drive back Downtown, and go back to work.
This time, Sanchez will clean offices at the 300 North Meridian building, one of the city’s tallest buildings and home to some of the community’s most prestigious law and accounting firms. Sanchez will pick up garbage, mop floors, and vacuum carpets until midnight.
I ask her if she is tired, which seems like a dumb question to pose to someone in the midst of a 70-hour workweek. Sanchez’s daughter is sitting in the next room, and she yells out, “Si!” Sanchez laughs. “Poco,” she says. A little.
But she has no choice, she explains. It takes two jobs to pay the bills. She lists the water bill, the gas bill, rent, electricity, food. The price of everything is going up, she says, but her salary stays the same.
After six years of working for GSF-USA cleaning office buildings, Sanchez makes $8.90 per hour. According to GSF-USA’s website, its parent company Group Services France employs over 25,000 people worldwide. The company’s most recent reported revenue, for 2008, was over $700 million.
Sanchez is one of 700 Indianapolis janitors who feel that companies like GSF can afford to pay them a better wage, along with providing access to affordable healthcare. The janitors are members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1, and they clean the majority of Downtown’s office space, including the offices for Eli Lilly and Company, Simon Property Group, and WellPoint. Like Sanchez, most of the janitors are paid around $9 per hour and are usually given less than 30 hours of work a week. They have no retirement plan.
The union and the contractors were set to begin negotiations on contract terms the week of July 22. GSF did not respond to a phone message and email seeking comment for this article.
Author Campbell works at one of the Eli Lilly buildings, and he is a union steward for SEIU Local 1. A tall, thin African-American man with large glasses, Campbell is in his 60s. When he discusses learning that janitors in other cities are making several dollars more each hour than workers like Sanchez, Campbell shakes his head in disappointment. “We want janitors here to be able to support a family with their work,” Campbell says. “Most of all, it is about self-dignity.”
Union members also argue that Indiana taxpayers are helping subsidize the cleaning companies because the janitors must rely on public assistance programs. Sanchez’s grandchildren are on Medicaid, and Sanchez is among many janitors who use the Wishard-Eskenazi Health clinics or emergency room because they cannot afford the employer’s offered health insurance.
Sanchez feels like she has held up her end of the bargain with her employer. “They want things clean, and I am providing that service,” she says, still bouncing Tiffany on her knee. In return, she is asking that her employer pay a wage that would allow her to pay her bills. With just one job.
One good job would be just fine with her.
At the June 1st, 2013 membership meeting, Local 1 members from 11 cities and 6 states overwhelmingly approved constitutional and bylaw amendments by a 94% vote. The final vote tally was 366 in favor of the amendments and 22 against.
As an SEIU Local 1 member or retiree, you are entitled to member-only rates, discounts and special offers from Union Plus. The Union Plus program is brought to us by the AFL-CIO to provide consumer benefits to union members. To view a full list of programs and discounts, including mortgages, travel discounts, entertainment coupons, and prepaid debit cards, visit www.unionplus.org or call 1-800-452-9425.
Johnson and Yarborough agree on the reason why their lives are so different, despite their similar jobs: Yarborough is represented by a union at her workplace, Johnson is not. Yarborough’s employer has a contract with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that includes annual raises, a grievance procedure, and seniority rights. “It is strength in numbers,” Yarborough says. “The company is never going to give us that on our own as individuals.”
In contrast, SEIU efforts to organize Johnson’s employer Securatex have not yet been successful. Also, Illinois mandates initial training, background checks, and refresher training for security guards like Yarborough, where Indiana law includes no such requirements. (A 2010 proposal to require minimal training for security guards in Indianapolis failed to pass the City-County Council.)
Workers going without health care while helping to erect a state-of-the-art hospital presents an irony that Johnson and others guarding the hospital construction site do not shy away from invoking. They have held demonstrations outside the building brandishing giant Band-Aids lettered, “Working Without Health Care at Wishard Hurts.” They marched in front of the Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County, Wishard’s parent organization, with a giant pill labeled, “No Health care is Hard to Swallow.”
Wishard’s current hospital is patrolled by security guards who are direct Wishard employees receiving better pay and benefits than Securatex guards. Johnson is quick to praise Wishard’s commitment to its low-income patients and the community’s overall health. “This situation with Securatex is not up to Wishard’s good reputation,” she says. “Their responsibility is to hire a contractor who shares their values. Wishard needs to do its homework a little more, instead of saying, ‘You are the cheapest, so I’m going to go with you.’”
Todd Harper, public affairs manager for Wishard Health Services, says that Securatex has complied with all Health and Hospital Corp. training and staffing requirements, and that the wages and benefits offered by Securatex are comparable to other local companies offering on-site security. “Safety is a top priority at the construction site,” Harper says. “We are proud to report that our safety statistics are better than both federal and state averages.”
‘Someone is going to get hurt’
Like Tiara Johnson, Tony “Coach” Young also works for Securatex at a local government site. Young is a security guard at the Duvall Residential Facility, a Near Eastside work-release center that houses more than 300 inmates. Young is among many who echo Johnson’s critique of Securatex for failure to train its guards. The company has lost several security contracts with local government agencies in recent months, and multiple sources inside and outside the company say that Securatex’s training practices are seriously deficient.
Young says he has worked at Duvall since 2010, but has never received any self-defense or conflict resolution training through the job. A broad-shouldered part-time wrestling coach at Emmerich Manual High School, Young says CPR and first-aid training was required of him before he was allowed to coach, but not before he was assigned to guard the inmates.
Young and other guards say that as few as five security officers are assigned to oversee the inmates on an overnight shift. The Securatex contract with the City of Indianapolis calls for an armed guard with special deputy arresting powers to be present on site at all times, but guards say there are many times when no such deputy is present.
One night in September, during Young’s shift, several inmates got into a fight that escalated. Young radioed for backup, but no one ever responded. The situation cooled down, but Young says the next time may not end so peacefully. “Eventually, someone is going to get hurt,” he says.
John Deiter, executive director of the Marion County Community Corrections agency that oversees the Duvall Center, would not comment for this article, citing instructions from the city’s Office of Corporation Counsel. Securatex did not return calls seeking comment. However, company president Patricia DuCanto recently told WRTV-6 that Securatex meets all the training standards set by its contracts.
DuCanto also told WRTV-6 that the negative attention directed to Securatex was the product of the SEIU organizing campaign. The union has been organizing security guards in Indianapolis for the last three years.
(Editor’s note: In October, Fran Quigley, author of this story, was one of several IU and IUPUI faculty members who signed a letter to Wishard CEO Dr. Lisa Harris asking Wishard to ensure that its contractors’ employees receive fair wages and benefits.)