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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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; email@example.com; 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.
Kathie Eilers, the on-again-off-again mental health administrator, resigned Monday as liaison to the newly created Milwaukee County Mental Health Board, saying her expertise is no longer required.
County Executive Chris Abele, who appointed the 70-year-old former administrator to the board in May, said he knew her term would be a “finite engagement.”
Eilers released a statement saying that she enjoyed her time working with the board, and that her resignation would be effective Dec. 19.
County Board members, who have been quick to criticize the Mental Health Board since its inception last spring, say the move is a sign of turmoil on the new board.
“There are some very good people on the board, but it is in disarray,” County Board Supervisor Patricia Jursik said. “The way the whole board was set up has been problematic from the beginning.”
The board was created by state law — it passed the state Senate and Assembly by a combined vote of 122-1 — after a Journal Sentinel investigation showed hundreds of people with severe mental illness suffered and died as County Board members ignored decades of calls for reform.
The law requires the new board to be made up of medical professionals and people with mental illness. Their goal is to transition mental health care in Milwaukee County from services mainly provided at the county psychiatric hospital to more programs in the community.
County Board members have sharply criticized the new board for passing a budget in late August without holding public comment, calling it “taxation without representation.”
The mental health budget is included in the overall county budget submitted by Abele — an elected official. The County Board approved the overall budget Monday. By law, the board cannot change the amount in the mental health budget.
Abele said Monday the numbers are moving in the right direction since the new board was established, with fewer emergency room visits and better outcomes for patients.
“I never said this new board would be perfect,” Abele said. “But it’s a vast improvement on what we had for decades. Does anyone really want the County Board to be running mental health again?”
The debate comes as administrators grapple with ways to provide care amid a shrinking workforce.
John Schneider, the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division’s executive medical director, sent a memo last week detailing the reduction of inpatient beds at the county’s Mental Health Complex while the administration works to recruit more employees.
“We will be instituting new census caps for use to better, safer and more efficaciously manage our duty to care for patients,” he said.
Pat Schroeder, the BHD administrator, told Mental Health Board members in an email last week that she and her staff were working hard to meet the demands to ensure patient safety.
“The challenges of the recent weeks have demonstrated that we need to take different actions to assure quality and safety,” Schroeder said.
The county’s Mental Health Complex has been cited more than 182 times by federal and state administrators for code violations in the past 10 years, 30% more than at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals for criminal offenders.
A doctor who examined medical records of six patients who died at the complex in 2012 found that basic medical care was lacking in four of the cases, contributing to their deaths.
The county recruited and trained 14 registered nurses in the past three months, only to have 14 other nurses resign.
The BHD, with 585 employees, is one of the county’s largest departments. Those who work there are considered county employees, but the budget is overseen by the Mental Health Board and not the County Board.
Mental Health Board members have called a special meeting at 10 a.m. Nov. 19 to discuss what duties they and the BHD staff should be performing. The meeting will be in the auditorium at the Milwaukee Public Schools Central Services Building, 5225 W. Vliet St., to allow easy access for the public to attend and comment.
Eilers, a nurse, retired from the county in 2003 after nearly 20 years, including about a decade as behavioral health administrator, with a pension of $4,056 a month. Abele named her as the head of the BHD in 2013, but the County Board rejected her appointment.
Her job with the Mental Health Board paid $75 an hour, and she worked roughly 26 hours a week.
By Corina Curry
Rockford Register Star | October 29. 2014
“You should use the taxpayers’ money to bring good jobs to the city,” said Carolina Villalobos, an organizer with Service Employees International Union, which represents the employees. “We’re here to ask for your help.”
Most of the district’s custodians work for $11 an hour, SEIU officials said. While they no longer are district employees — their work was outsourced in 2005 — small groups of school janitors have been attending board meetings in recent months, asking for the district’s support as they attempt to negotiate a new one-year contract with their employer, GCA Services Group.
The people who mop floors and empty garbage cans at the district’s 47 schools work full-time without health insurance, paid holidays or paid sick time. The group is asking for a 3 percent raise and benefits from GCA but has been unsuccessful. The current contract expires Friday.
The group is frustrated, members said, because the district has spent millions of dollars on facilities upgrades and building improvements in recent years, but when they ask for better working conditions to care for the buildings, they are told there are no funds.
Before 2005, Rockford’s public school custodians were district employees. The district put the contract out to bid that year. The employees unionized as SEIU Local 1 about eight years ago.
The district signed a three-year contract with GCA in May.