DETROIT – As janitors, security officers, healthcare workers and public sector workers across Detroit are in the process of choosing the candidate who deserves their vote in the primary, Gail Stiger, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1, was joined by former State Senator Gretchen Whitmer for a day in her life. Ms. Whitmer walked a day in this janitor’s shoes and heard about the issues she faces each day, while working a low wage job in the McNamara Terminal. Ms. Whitmer heard what it takes to not only survive on low wages, but also what is needed to ensure that all of Detroit’s neighborhoods can thrive.
“If I were to talk to the next Governor, I would tell him or her that they should think about what their life would be like if they didn’t make as much – if they made as little as me,” said Stiger. “I would ask them to think about how much they would struggle to make ends meet, deciding which bill to pay or how they were going to get to work. I’m tired of struggling. I would ask them to be compassionate and to help us by working to raise wages and build our unions because that is how you can help.”
Service workers are calling on their next governor to raise wages, support the right to join together in a union, build our communities and keep the people of Michigan safe. More than 1,000 janitors in Detroit, including the janitors at McNamara Terminal, will kick off negotiations for their Master Janitorial Contract this summer, with the current agreement expiring on July 31. SEIU Local 1 is also working to bring workers across the Detroit area, including janitors, airport workers and arena district workers, a voice on the job as they are standing together for a $15 minimum wage and union rights.
“Working with Gail today has sharpened my focus and eliminated my patience for anyone who stands in the way of a fair wage for Michiganders who work hard and play by the rules,” said Whitmer. “We can build an economy that works for everyone by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and making it easier, not harder for workers to organize unions starting with repealing right to work. I stand with the hardworking men and women who keep our airport clean and safe, and I’ll never stop fighting for workers in Michigan.”
SEIU Local 1 members in Detroit joined hundreds of hospital, healthcare and fast food workers to deliver a “Workers’ State of the State” in front of Governor Snyder’s office at Cadillac Place on Tuesday, January 23. The event outlined the ways the governor has attacked working people and their unions over the past eight years, and enumerated the demands of Michigan’s workers of their next governor.
“Working people in this state need a path to higher wages,” said Darrel Bonner, a janitor for U.S. Metro at the Detroit Public Schools. “We need home rule so that we can have a say in those wages. And we need to know our children will be safe from things like lead in our water. We need access to basic services. And we need a Governor who will support our unions! Unions are the best way to get our state back on track.”
After eight years of Snyder’s failed policies, workers are sticking together and fighting back to let their fellow citizens know the true state of Michigan, after eight years of lowered standards, low wages and, in some places, a lack of basic standard of living, including poisoned water. The number one job of our elected leaders should be to raise the standard of living for working people.
“When I was asked how Governor Snyder’s policies have impacted me, I thought back to the disaster in Flint,” said SEIU Local 1 Executive Board Member and Detroit janitor Pam Owens-Moore. “I was never prouder to be a member of Local 1 than when we delivered that semi-truckload of water to Flint, and I believe that unions make our state stronger. What happened in Flint is a horrific disaster. But it teaches us a valuable lesson that who we elect and what they believe makes a real difference in people’s lives.”
This event was the first of many throughout 2018 in Detroit and across the state of Michigan in which SEIU and Fight for $15 workers are fighting to make politicians listen to working people and take action on issues that matter, including leading on raising wages by increasing the state and local minimum wage and ensuring workers have rights to strong unions.
The officers gathered outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center alongside members of Service Employees International Union Local 1 for a news conference announcing plans to organize to seek improved standards from the contractors who employ them.
The rally was part of SEIU’s nationwide campaign to join with security workers in the fight for better working conditions. SEIU has already organized groups in Columbus, Chicago and Indianapolis and is working to do so in Milwaukee, said Kathleen Policy, a union representative.
For Detroit, about 300 to 400 security workers contracted by various firms for several buildings downtown, including DTE Energy and the Detroit Medical Center, are signing up to organize with the SEIU local, said the union’s Detroit coordinator, Vas Jacobs.
“They are the first responders and they need better working conditions. We’re trying to get better standards for them. They need better pay, better training and a voice on the job,” he said. “We want to see these changes for these workers. As Detroit is coming back and turning that corner, we need to make sure these neighborhood jobs, like security, also get enhanced and get better working conditions for those workers.”
Workers taking part Wednesday are employed by various contractors, including Advanced Security/USSA, which the SEIU contends has been an “irresponsible” contractor that they have been trying to work with. A representative for Georgia-headquartered U.S. Security Associates could not be immediately reached Wednesday, nor could an official with the Southfield-based Advanced Security offices.
Close to 100 union members, security staff and several Detroit City Council members gathered for the brief rally in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue on Woodward Avenue. The group played music and blew whistles, while some chanted “if we don’t get it, shut it down” and “no justice, no peace.” Others carried signs that read, “Good Jobs Safe Detroit.”
SEIU Local 1 members in Detroit joined thousands nationwide rallying in support of airport workers. On November 29, workers rallied to support striking workers at O’Hare and their brothers and sisters at airports across the country.
SEIU Local 1 members in Detroit hit the doors for SEIU-endorsed candidates on October 22 with SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry and U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence. Members Pam Owens Moore, Markita Blanchard, James Ushery and Paulette Compass, along with several other members, knocked on doors with their fellow members from SEIU Healthcare Michigan.
Go Team Detroit!
When SEIU Local 1 heard about the water crisis in Flint, Mich., they looked for a way to make a difference and bring justice to the lives of the people of Flint – including the nearly 9,000 children poisoned by lead and the thousands of others impacted by the crisis.
On Saturday, January 30, Local 1 members delivered 860 cases of water, as well as a pallet of baby wipes to aid in washing children, to two churches in Flint — Our Lady of Guadalupe, which works closely with the undocumented immigrant community to ensure they have clean drinking water, and Eternal Life Ministries. This donation was made possible by the support of more than a hundred contributors to a Local 1 generated Go Fund Me page.
The Detroit members were especially committed to this project because they too are experiencing the impact of the political decision by Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) to circumvent the democratically elected officials of predominantly African American cities in Michigan and appoint Emergency Managers to cities and departments. From the beginning, Emergency Managers, like Darnell Earley, who made the decision that ruined the lives of thousands of Flint residents, were sent to mostly-poor, mostly African-American cities in Michigan, like Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Highland Park, stripping them of their rights to self-representation and local rule.
“By allowing our children to be poisoned and the education system to be degraded, the Governor has put our state and our future at risk,” said SEIU Local 1 Executive Board Member Pam Owens. “Local 1’s mission is to raise up our cities and our states so we must work to help Flint and to fix the Detroit Public Schools, and we must hold the Governor, the emergency managers and our other elected and appointed officials accountable.”
The generosity of the contributors will allow Local 1 to have an on-going presence in Flint, and the Local has promised to help as the city move forward from the crisis. The Local will join together with other labor and community groups to make sure that the people behind the crisis are held accountable, including the Governor, but to also end the misguided cost cutting measures that led to the crisis in Flint and are damaging Detroit’s children in the public schools.
Background on Flint and Detroit Public School Crisis:
The appointed decision-maker in Flint, Darnell Earley, who chose to cut costs at any cost to the citizens of Flint in 2013, is now doing the same to the Detroit Public Schools, where Local 1 members work.
Since last January when Earley was promoted to Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools, he has aggressively pushed for more cuts to schools, teachers, and student services – including janitorial services — in order to pay down the district’s debt.
Detroit Public Schools had a surplus of $80 million dollars prior to state emergency management. That surplus has turned into a deficit of $515 million dollars, driven by state mismanagement, school closures, and students leaving the district. Vermin now infest the city’s schools and teachers recently walked off the job to protest. This is unconscionable. Earley’s tenure at both institutions has been to cut budgets at any cost, and the results have been disastrous.
By an overwhelming margin, members of SEIU Local 1 in Detroit ratified the Master Janitorial Contract on July 25, 2015. The contract, which covers more than 1,450 janitors working both downtown and throughout the Detroit suburbs, increases wages and ensures employer provided health insurance for three years.
This contract, which provides wage increases for both current janitors and future hires in the city and suburbs, benefits both their families and our local economy. The historic three year agreement also adds non-discrimination language and strengthens standards for members working at the airport.
“This contract campaign has been different than the past – this campaign was about more than just our contract – it was about Raising Detroit with Good Jobs and engaging the wider community to achieve this on a long term basis,” Detroit Janitor and SEIU Local 1 Executive Board Member Pam Owens said. “We knew that our community must come first and in order to improve conditions for working people in the city of Detroit, we needed to come together, so that everyday people, not just developers and millionaires, can have a place at the table as our city moves forward. This contract shows that we deserve a place.”
Detroit janitors held a series of events, including protests, a press conference and a candlelight vigil, with record levels of turnout.
“This campaign was successful because the members took to the streets in huge numbers and stood together in solidarity,” SEIU Michigan Coordinator Jennifer Disla said. “We clearly owned the streets and we also owned the airwaves during this campaign. Both of these things showed our strength to the contractors at the table, and we would not have been as successful without this support.”
“Our recent wins are exciting, and proof that SEIU Local 1 members are leading the way for working families. The economic gains we make in our contracts not only help SEIU Local 1 members’ families live a better life, but they also promise a better future for our country.”
– Tom Balanoff, SEIU Local 1 President
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