By: Monique Garcia
As Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner sets his sights on limiting the influence of unions in Illinois, he’s pushing an idea he’s dubbed “empowerment zones” — areas across the state where voters could decide if workers in their communities should be forced to join a union or pay associated dues.
It’s a variation of what is more commonly called “right to work” — rules put in place at a statewide level to prevent unions from requiring workers who decline membership to pay related fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining they still benefit from. The concept, which generally applies to private-sector unions, has gained traction among conservative politicians across the nation as states try to spur economic growth following a brutal recession that saw businesses close and tax dollars dry up.
The like-minded new governor is unlikely to get a statewide ban on forced union membership from a General Assembly firmly controlled by Democrats, who historically have relied on employee unions for support come campaign season. Empowerment zones represent a trial program on the local level.
“I’m not trying to force the whole state to go right to work, I’m not advocating that,” Rauner said Friday at a stop in Decatur. “I want local voters, I want you to be empowered to decide this issue for yourselves, in your cities and in your county. I want that everywhere in the state. And the counties that liked the status quo and liked closed shop, keep it. Terrific. Those who want to compete and recruit more manufacturing firms and transportation companies, terrific.”
Rauner views right-to-work laws as a way to make Illinois more attractive to businesses that weigh operating costs here with other states. If companies come, Rauner argues, so do jobs and the associated tax dollars to help support government. To opponents, the policy is purely an attempt to weaken unions and drive down wages. They contend such measures cause more harm than good, as workers make less money and are forced to then rely on government assistance programs.
Taken with other ideas Rauner unveiled during his State of the State speech Wednesday, empowerment zones are being seen by some as just one piece of an all-out assault on unions and Illinois Democrats. Rauner also called for a ban on political donations by unions, giving taxpayers a say in the collective bargaining process at the local level, and ending the requirement that prevailing union wages be paid to workers on state and municipal construction projects.
“I’d think if I was a public-sector worker that Governor Rauner has declared war on us,” said Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Illinois State Council, which represents workers who provide home health care, janitorial and maintenance services.
Rauner rejects that notion, saying he’s not “anti-union” but merely endorsing the “freedom to choose,” and that being allowed to leave a union but still having to pay dues isn’t much of a choice.
“You want to join a union? Terrific. God bless you,” Rauner said Thursday in Troy, near St. Louis. “Here’s the issue. Today in Illinois, we are closed. If there’s a union, you have join it, in government or in business. You know what? Other states don’t enforce that. And companies that want to have the flexibility to have union or not to have their employees be able to sign, they don’t come to places that enforce it.”
Rules regarding union enrollment are more nuanced than the governor lets on. Federal labor law, which applies to private-sector unions, does not require membership in a union as a condition of employment. However, because unions are legally bound to negotiate on behalf of all employees covered in the bargaining unit they represent, workers who choose not to join are still required to pay dues, or what is known as an “agency fee.” The idea is that everyone who benefits from the collective bargaining, such as through higher wages and better retirement benefits negotiated by the union, should pay their fair share of associated costs.
There are similar rules for public employee unions in Illinois. Workers can choose to join a union, but those who do not are responsible for paying a “fair share” fee. Illinois law prohibits those fees from being used to support political candidates.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Statics says there 831,000 union members in Illinois as of last year, representing about 15 percent of the state’s workforce. An additional 49,000 workers were identified as having no union affiliation, but their jobs were covered by a union. It’s that population of workers who likely pay agency fees to offset collective bargaining costs but choose to reject union membership.
Rauner said, “the fair share is huge, it’s almost 100 percent or 80 percent. That’s not right.”
Those fees are at the center of the national right-to-work debate. In states that have put in place right-to-work laws, workers are no longer required to pay fees or dues to support collective bargaining efforts.
That sets up a system critics call a “free ride,” in which workers who don’t pay into the system benefit at the expense of those who do. If enough workers take the free ride, unions don’t have the financial resources to negotiate as fiercely, and their powers are weakened. Unions argue that leads to fewer rights for workers at the benefit of employers.
“You create a race to the bottom in terms of wages,” said Bill Looby, political director of the Illinois AFL-CIO. “It’s an ideology that the economy will do better if the top does better. But that’s a tired theory that hasn’t worked. If we are going to stimulate our prosperity it needs to come from the middle class.”
The impact on worker incomes and economic growth depends on the ideology of the think tank doing the study. A 2013 study by the University of Illinois declared job creation is likely somewhere in the middle, estimating right to work laws could range from a 1.2-percentage-point decrease in total employment to a 1.4-percentage-point increase in Illinois.
Two dozen states have passed right-to-work laws mostly in the South. In the Midwest, neighboring Indiana, Iowa and Michigan have such laws, and in Michigan restrictions extend to some public employee unions.
While Rauner has yet to fill in the details about his plan, the broad strokes of his proposal would allow voters in a county, municipality or other local unit of government to put a referendum on the ballot to decide “whether or not business employees should be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.”
Attempting to put in place right-to-work laws at the local level instead of statewide also raises legal questions. Critics say it’s a violation of the Taft-Hartley Act, an update to federal employment law passed in 1947 that gave states the power to enact right-to-work laws in the first place. They point to a provision that says such restrictions can be put in place by “state or territorial law,” arguing those words forbid right-to-work measures at a county or municipal level.
“The federal law, if you read it, it’s really not ambiguous, it says territory or state, and it’s clear from the congressional record what people meant — a state like Illinois or Michigan, not a segment like Cook County,” said Bob Bruno, a labor and employment relations professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s not at all clear where this is consistent with federal law, if this idea would be legal.”
Bruno said the legal ambiguity is fueled in part because only Kentucky has enacted right-to-work laws at a local level, where a handful of counties have approved such measures in recent months after a statewide effort was blocked by Democrats in the legislature.
Those moves have sparked a court challenge from unions, as well as an opinion from Democratic Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who also is running for governor. Conway found that “local governments have no power to enact right-to-work ordinances, as they are pre-empted by (federal law).” But proponents fought back with their own analysis from two former Kentucky Supreme Court justices — one Democrat, one Republican — saying a county does have that power, a signal that the court battle is far from over.
A Rauner aide said the governor thinks he could avoid a similar legal fight in Illinois under legislation being drafted that would “explicitly allow local voters to create empowerment zones.”
“Because there would be enabling legislation, we believe there would not be a similar legal challenge as is being pursued in Kentucky,” spokesman Lance Trover said.
Speculation about legal challenges in Illinois may be premature, though, as even supporters of Rauner’s plan acknowledge it may not survive the inevitable political battles ahead. Still, they say it’s a needed start to discussions about how to improve the state’s business climate as companies move out of state in search of a cheaper workforce.
“There’s no doubt that my friends, the leaders in organized labor, will make this a defining issue in their interactions with members of the General Assembly,” said Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “But I would ask my friends in organized labor what’s going so well in the current circumstances that we should protect so strongly? There’s a higher wage base, but if we year after year lose these facilities, why shouldn’t we look at these opportunities? Why shouldn’t we have this as an arrow in our quiver when we are talking to a company that wants to relocate in Illinois?”
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who chairs the state Democratic Party, offered a veiled hint of the difficult prospects ahead for Rauner’s idea last week, saying his focus is on “helping working people.”
“I think what we ought to do is to understand that organized labor represents working people. For myself, I’m very interested in helping working people. And I’m sure that almost every member of the legislature shares that view,” Madigan told Illinois Public Media. “Organized labor doesn’t represent everybody, but they do advance significant ideas before the legislature as to how we can improve the economy, help people get jobs, keep jobs, pay taxes, make a mortgage payment, pay for the education of a child.”
Tribune reporters Kim Geiger and Ray Long contributed.
CHICAGO—Leading the fight against income inequality, SEIU Local 1 announced its endorsements for the 2015 City of Chicago Aldermanic Candidates. “Each of these candidates has demonstrated they understand the needs of working families,” said Tom Balanoff, SEIU Local 1 President. “I praise Alyx Pattison for understanding middle class economics as well as the need for restoring balance, reviving neighborhoods and building an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.”
“Chicago’s working people have a chance to vote for an economy that works for all of us in the upcoming February election,” said Rita Young, SEIU Local 1 Executive Board member. “That’s why SEIU is proud to endorse these progressive candidates so we can work with our elected officials to eliminate the economic and social inequality that is holding our city back.”
In addition to the SEIU Illinois State Council endorsements last week (see full list below),SEIU Local 1 is pleased to endorse the following candidates:
Representing more than 30,000 workers in Illinois, SEIU Local 1 rallies behind candidates who have demonstrated strong voting records on issues important to working families such as raising the minimum wage. SEIU Local 1 represents workers including security officers, janitors, and other service workers. SEIU members are winning better wages, health care, and more secure jobs, while ensuring that workers, not just corporations and CEOs, benefit from today’s economy.
The SEIU State Council endorsed the below aldermanic candidates last week: Ald. Joe Moreno (1); Ald. Pat Dowell (3); Ald. Leslie Hairston (5); Ald Roderick Sawyer (6); Patrick Thompson (11); Ald. Toni Foulkes (16); Ald. Willie Cochran (20); Ald. Howard Brookins (21); Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22); Ald. Michael Zalewski (23); Ald. Walter Burnett (27); Ald. Jason Ervin (28); Ald. Scott Waguespack (32); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35); Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38); and Ald. John Arena (45).
CLEVELAND, Ohio – They rallied in front of the Halle Building on Monday during the holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with some carrying this sign: “I AM A MAN”.
For many, the link between the sign and King is inextricable. Striking sanitation workers in Memphis carried that sign in 1968. King had gone to that city to support those workers in their struggle for higher wages and safer working conditions, when he was assassinated. Those who rallied Monday in Cleveland sought to invoke his spirit as a champion of workers’ rights in their present day struggle to ensure that working class workers here hold on to “decent” pay and benefits, which they say are threatened with being eroded.
At center of the rally were the contracts of janitors in the Service Employees International Union, Local 1, that are scheduled to expire in the spring.
“In commemoration of MLK and all of the work that he did with labor, we felt that it was fitting to make sure that the voices of the working people of our city are heard,” said Yanela Sims, Northern Ohio coordinator for the union. “We want our voices heard. Our objective is to gain fair contracts with good wages and benefits, so that people are able to take care of their kids and live productively.”
She said the Halle Building downtown on Euclid Avenue was chosen as the rally site for a reason. Sims said the building is being converted to housing, and the owner has no interest in keeping unionized janitors. As a result, six janitors lost jobs, she said.
The building is owned by the K&D Group. Doug Price, the company’s CEO, has not returned The Plain Dealer’s call regarding the matter.
Sims said firing unionized janitors as downtown commercial buildings convert to housing is becoming more common. In fact, she said K&D got rid of the four unionized janitors last year when the company bought the Leader Building in Cleveland to covert it to housing. Sims said the MLK Day rally served to put building owners with such intentions on notice.
“The next time a building owner decides they want to sweep up another building, and kick out the folks that work there, we are going to fight it,” she said to the cheering crowd of about 40. “We are going to fight to make sure good jobs stay in Cleveland.”
Sims said contracts for SEIU janitors are not just up this year at downtown buildings, but also at Cuyahoga Community College, John Carroll University and ArcelorMittal.
Angelique Tolbert, a janitor at ArcelorMittal, told those at the rally that the working class would have to fight back to keep from losing ground.
“It is easy to defeat one man, but with an army the fight is much easier,” she said. “I hear a lot of shouting about change. My question to you is, ‘When will you be tired? What are you ready to do for change?’
“I know I am tired now,” she said. “I am ready to fight for better wages, paid holidays, vacations and any other necessities that any other job would offer.”
Among the paid holidays Tolbert said she would have to fight for is MLK Day.
Gilbert Santos, a janitor at the Cuyahoga County building, who also spoke at the rally, echoed Tolbert’s call for unity.
“I am here because I believe in better wages and better working conditions,” he said. “If we stand together, we can definitely succeed together.”
After the rally in front of the Halle Building, participants marched along Euclid Avenue. They chanted, “We’re fired up. Won’t take it no more.” Many held signs with images of King or those with variations on the “I AM A MAN” sign, such as “I AM A WOMAN” and “I AM A JANITOR”.
Harriet Applegate, who heads the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, said such a rally was a great way to celebrate the federal holiday.
“He died supporting workers in their attempt to get a voice at work and a better contract,” she said at the rally. “Because of these things, and because of his strong stand against right to work, he is every bit a labor hero as he is a civil rights hero. It is fitting to have this demonstration on this very, very important labor holiday.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 16, 2015
Julia P. Valentine, email@example.com
CHICAGO – SEIU Local 1 janitors held a rally on Thursday, January 15, to celebrate the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and announce the start of the Chicago janitorial contract campaign. Chicago janitors are fighting to realize Dr. King’s dream of good jobs that lift communities out of poverty fifty years after his tragic death.
Contracts expire on April 5, 2015 for nearly 12,000 janitors in Chicago including Chicago Public School custodians and other city and county buildings along with janitors working in office buildings in downtown Chicago and across Chicagoland. Similar janitorial contracts are expiring for approximately 200,000 janitors around the country throughout 2015 and 2016; Chicago is the first city to negotiate.
SEIU Local 1 Secretary-Treasurer Laura Garza told the crowd, “Dr. King called the labor movement ‘the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.’ Today, on his birthday, we are still fighting: for fair wages and benefits and a way to provide for our families.” She continued, “While the recovery has been good to the very wealthy, it has not touched our wages and benefits. We want that to change with these contract negotiations. Our economy should lift all workers, not just those at the top.”
SEIU Local 1 members testified to their fellow members about the importance of raising Chicago – and America – with good jobs. “Workers today are struggling despite working hard every day. We believe that if you work hard, you should be able to support your family and have a good life,” said Urszula Przybys, a janitor who has been working for eighteen years at the NBC Tower in downtown Chicago. She was echoed by CPS custodians Lamont Christmas and Salud Gonzales.
GET THE FACTS ON CHICAGO JANITORS:
# # #
Service Employees International Union Local 1 unites nearly 50,000 workers throughout the Midwest. SEIU janitors, security officers, food service workers, and others are working with community leaders to advocate for the quality services the public deserves and the good jobs our communities need.
Today, the grand jury’s decision deepens those wounds and amplifies even more the disproportionate and disparate injustices experienced by communities of color.
“For months, families across our nation have experienced collective grief and outrage over the taking of Michael Brown’s life and the resulting turmoil that has upended the community in Ferguson, Missouri. Today, the grand jury’s decision deepens those wounds and amplifies even more the disproportionate and disparate injustices experienced by communities of color. These injustices reverberate through all communities and take our nation another step away from a fair and just society.
Our disappointment in today’s decision does not extinguish the hope in our hearts for a better America for all our children regardless of where they were born or in which zip code they live.
Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. All lives matter. The dream of America can never be fully realized until justice and safety prevail in every community across our country. The Department of Justice must prioritize the investigation into the murder of Michael Brown.
SEIU members stand with our brothers and sisters in Ferguson and across the nation in expressing our grief and frustration. We join them in calling for something better for all neighborhoods and communities and joining together in peaceful demonstrations at federal courthouses across the country.
More information can be found here (http://nationalactionnetwork.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/HANDS-UP-JUSTICE-RALLY-FLIER-11-21.pdf). We encourage all involved law enforcement to honor the rules and the rights of people to protest and speak out.
We will not rest in these efforts until America is a more just society where every human being is respected and every community has equal opportunity to thrive.
For Immediate Release: November 24, 2014
Media Contact: Beau Boughamer; firstname.lastname@example.org; 202/765-9143
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 21, 2014
CHICAGO— Today, Friday, November 21, school custodians and their supporters from area school districts, including Rockford, Elgin and Wheaton, rallied to protest school board inaction at the annual conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago.
“Thanksgiving should be a happy time, not a time to worry about a smaller paycheck,” said Shana Spearman, a custodian in the Rockford Public Schools District 205. “Working full-time without a single paid sick day or holiday isn’t right. We are just asking to be treated fairly.”
Custodians like Ms. Spearman have addressed their school boards at recent public meetings as well as sent letters to request support for better pay and basic benefits like paid holidays and sick days. They have reminded the school boards that it is within the boards’ power to dictate wage and benefit standards to the cleaning contractors they hire. Yet none have taken any action to support the men and women who keep their schools clean and their students and staff safe from illness.
“There is still time for these school districts to do the right thing for the men and women who keep their schools sanitary, some of whom have been on the job for ten years or more,” said Lonnell Saffold, a director with SEIU Local 1. “At a time when infectious disease outbreaks in schools are rampant, supporting paid sick time is not only an issue of respect, it is a serious safety issue.”
School boards have the authority to set standards for wages and benefits in their contracts and dictate these terms to the contractors they hire. The national trend of outsourcing janitorial work in public schools should not result in a race to the bottom. Instead of inflicting poverty jobs on workers and their families, public school districts should be providing good jobs that build strong communities.
SEIU Local 1 unites nearly 50,000 workers across six Midwestern states who are building an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy.
www.seiu1.org | @SEIULocal1 | www.Facebook.com/SEIULocal1
CHICAGO — School District U46’s night custodians, hoping to get higher pay and some paid days off from the private contractor who employs them, are continuing to apply pressure against the U46 school board.
As the Illinois Association of School Boards held its annual meeting in a Chicago hotel Friday, about five of the U46 workers joined about 30 custodians from the Service Employees International Union who work for school districts in Wheaton and Rockford. They held signs with messages such as “U46 teachers got raises. What about me?”
The 172 night custodians work for GCA Service Group of Knoxville, Tenn. Their contract expired in June and they finally agreed to a one-year extension that gave them no pay raise and no insurance or paid days off. Several members have spoken to the U46 Board of Education in recent weeks, asking board members to apply pressure on GCA to give them a better deal.
Hugo Barrientos, who works at Kimball Middle School, said he was on the picket line Friday.
“We haven’t had a raise in four years, and that raise was 10 cents an hour,” Barrientos said. “I was making $10.70 before that and now for four years I have been making $10.80. Last week I was so sick, I had to call my supervisor and say I couldn’t make it to work that day. I lost one day’s pay because we get no paid sick days.”
“Thanksgiving should be a happy time, not a time to worry about a smaller paycheck,” said Shana Spearman, a custodian in Rockford Public Schools District 205 who also was on the picket line. “Working full-time without a single paid sick day or holiday isn’t right.”
Lonnell Saffold, a director with SEIU Local 1, said it is within the school boards’ power to dictate wage and benefit standards to the cleaning contractors they hire.
“There is still time for you to ensure that the men and women who keep your schools clean and healthy—many of whom are parents of U46 children—are treated fairly,” Saffold wrote in a letter to U46 board members last week. “At a time when infectious disease outbreaks in schools are rampant, supporting paid sick time is not only an issue of respect, it is a serious safety issue.”
“The national trend of outsourcing janitorial work in public schools should not result in a race to the bottom,” Saffold said. “Instead of inflicting poverty jobs on workers and their families, public school districts should be providing good jobs that build strong communities.”
But during a U46 board meeting last month, most board members and district officials seemed reluctant to intervene in the dispute. Chief Operating Officer Jeff King said the district rehired GCA to do the work under a new contract just last spring, and that contract lasts through 2019.
King said the contract specifies that the company must pay at least a certain minimum wage to its workers, based on four levels of duties and experience, but requires no benefits.
“We don’t get involved in negotiations between a contractor and its employees,” King said in answer to questions that night from board member Veronica Noland. He said it’s up to a contractor like GCA to say, “This is what we pay,” and in letting such a contract, the school district usually is obligated to pick the lowest bidder.
Noland said at that meeting that she wonders why the district can’t just use its own employees.
“There are cost efficiencies involved,” King said.
By Amber Stearns
NUVO | October 31. 2014
Ana Rosas used to clean the offices of Ambrose Property Group as a janitor working for Sunshine Maintenance Services.
When she hired into the position at $8 an hour, Ana knew it wasn’t enough to live on and support her family, so she asked how long until a raise would be considered.
She was told six months.
So, Ana did her job to the best of her ability. She cleaned tables, floors, bathrooms, offices and entire floors. Ana, a fellow co-worker, and her supervisor cleaned four floors in the Ambrose building every night, then walked down the block to clean another building.
After six months on the job and a clean record, Ana approached her supervisor about the raise she thought she was eligible to receive.
“Then he came back to me and said the manager (of Sunshine Management) said ‘this comes from the president.’ He said there is no money and that there are a stack of applications and the door is wide open.”
(Ana spoke with me through translator Monica Morales because she speaks little to no English.)
“Two months later I insisted again because $8 is not enough,” said Ana. “$283 a week is not enough to pay my bills, food, house, help my kids out with their education.”
Ana is the single mother of two; she has a daughter, 19, and a son, 16. Her husband died before her son was born. Her daughter is a student at Ivy Tech and IUPUI studying mechanical engineering. She says it was watching her daughter go to school and work at the same time to pay for it that prompted her to seek out more money from her employer.
“She doesn’t sleep she goes to work early in the morning then to school then back to work,” said Ana. “I know that what she is studying is really really hard and she needs to study and it makes me feel helpless because I can’t help her out.”
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 in Indianapolis got involved with Ana’s situation and has been helping her with case. With their advice, Ana approached Sunshine Management again for a raise in pay and for the right to form a union among the other employees. Both requests were denied and Ana lost her job.
Ana has since talked to Ambrose Property Group to let them know the actions of the company they hired and how their employees were treated. Their response was very positive, immediately asking what they could do to help.
“They (Ambrose) needed to know that the company they hired is paying us really low wages. I clean the president’s desk and I can see how they live,” said Ana, referring to the pictures of family, vacations, and other things that decorated the office. “How nice would that be to dedicate time to your family.”
Ana also filed a formal charge of unfair labor practice against Sunshine Maintenance and her case is under federal investigation. The regional labor board is scheduled to interview Ana as they investigate the Sunshine’s actions. SEIU Local 1 spokesperson Leslie Mendoza Kamstra says they hope Ana will be able to get her job back with a raise.
Ana says SEIU Local 1 has been very supportive in her fight for better wages and benefits and says she would do it again.
“Because we need to fight for our rights,’ said Ana. “It is enough of them stepping all over us. Our work should count.”
She also says that anyone else in the same situation should no be afraid to speak up and fight for what they deserve.
“Don’t give up,” said Ana. “There are unions. There are allies in the community, faith allies in our churches. We are not alone.
By Fran Quigley
Indianapolis Star | November 19. 2014
Judging by online message boards and the pronouncements of some politicians, it is easy for some of us to treat the working poor as an abstraction.
So allow me to introduce Ana Rosas. If the statistic that one in every four private sector workers earns less than $10 per hour seems a little remote, ask Rosas about the challenge of working as a janitor in Downtown Indianapolis. She can tell you how wages of $8 per hour, and take-home pay of less than $300 each week, translates to standing in line at the church food pantry. Ask her about her humiliation when asking for loans from family and friends in order to pay the rent.
Perhaps it is tempting to dismiss the working poor as somewhat lazy. That temptation disappears when Rosas describes the excruciating back and leg pain that is a predictable result of a 54-year-old woman mopping, vacuuming and hauling trash 40 hours each week. Like nearly half of the Indiana private sector workforce, Rosas had no paid sick days in her janitorial job. Every evening, she put aside her pain and limped into work.
Record levels of local and national income inequality may not seem tangible to us. If so, ask Rosas about how she scrubbed the toilets used by lawyers and business executives who take home wages 10 times or greater than hers. During the day, the occupants of those offices arrange for vacation homes and season tickets. At night, Rosas wipes down their desks and worries about eviction notices and filling prescriptions.
Maybe we shake our head in disapproval at teenagers flunking out of school after no one was home to oversee homework. Judgment becomes a little harder to issue when Rosas explains that her husband died when she was pregnant with their second child. Leaving her teenagers home while she worked until 1AM was a necessity, not a choice.
The limited protection of U.S. labor laws can seem like just words on a page. The one in five union activists who get fired for speaking out may come off as mere data points. At least until you talk with Rosas about when she asked for a raise and expressed her desire to be represented by the Service Employees International Union. She was fired days later.
An unfair labor practice charge has been filed and awaits a ruling. But, in the meantime, Rosas is without permanent work, and the company is likely to be safe from any more union talk at the workplace. The worst-case scenario for the company is likely being forced to give Rosas some back pay. As University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer has said, U.S. labor law’s limited deterrence to employers is akin to making the worst punishment for a burglar the prospect that they may have to return the stolen items.
It is not surprising that Ana Rosas is invisible to so many of us. The lawyers and the business executives whose offices she cleaned work for big-name companies whose names we all would recognize. But they did not directly employ Ana Rosas or her colleagues. The law firms and corporations leave that to a property manager, Ambrose Property Group. Turns out Ambrose delegates that unpleasantness out, too, leaving the janitors to work for a low-profile contractor, Sunshine Maintenance Services. (Ambrose declined to comment for this column, saying the matter is between Sunshine and its employee. Sunshine did not reply to my request for comment.)
So you may not know Ana Rosas. But she knows you. She knows people think $7.25 per hour is just fine for a minimum wage. She knows that people believe employers should be able to crush a union whenever they wish.
But she wonders if you would still hold onto those views if you had to confront her reality. If you had to go to work when you were sick or hurt. If you were fired for speaking out. If you tried raising a family on poverty wages.
Rosas has been composed while explaining her struggles, but finally her voice starts to rise. “Are you able to live on $8 per hour?” she asks. “Do the math and tell me how this is supposed to work.”
Now, tears of frustration begin to flow. They are no abstraction, either.
Quigley is a clinical professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.