Columbus. Ohio janitors represented by SEIU will enter the New Year knowing that there is power in the union. The janitors reached a new contract agreement after a one-year battle with predominantly national cleaning companies. Contract talks broke down when the companies demanded a wage freeze and a return to part-time hours. But the janitors decided to stand together and fight. SEIU organizer Amanda Hart.
[Amanda Hart]: “We did fight back. And we joined with community and faith and elected leaders. We rallied and protested and many of our workers even went out on strike. And on two separate occasions community members were arrested in non-violent civil disobedience actions in support of good jobs for our janitors. And at the end of the day their efforts paid off and we improved jobs in Columbus. It really just showed people that whenever you stand up together, gains can be made. This is a victory for us. When you’re looking at your hours being cut from full-time to part-time, that can be up to half your income. Like, how do you survive after that – other than going to get get a second or third job? It’s just not sustainable. And that’s why they made the decision to stand up. And at the end of the day, we did it.”
Carla Nugeness says she and her fellow workers united and were determined to not only fight for their rights and to improve their working conditions, but to win that fight.
[Carla Nugeness]: “I feel much better. We have more full-time buildings, which will help a lot of the janitors. The knocking down the hours was hard for everybody, so the full-time hours will help everybody out. I’ve been out there every day in the cold and the wind and the rain and tryin’ to keep warm at the same, tryin’ to fight for our rights and for everybody else’s rights and help all of us out. All of us janitors have a hard time, I mean, on what we make. And now we can maybe make it.”
The new contract for the Columbus janitors takes effect January 1st.
(Thanks to Evan Davis at WCRS radio in Columbus for audio used in this story.)
Janitors who work in downtown Columbus office buildings have voted to ratify a new three-year contract with their employers, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced yesterday in a press release. The contract, which goes into effect on January 1, will affect about 1,000 janitors and their families.
“Today we proved that when workers join together, we have strength. This is a huge victory for all hard working janitors,” said SEIU Local 1 member Claude Smith on Saturday after the contract vote. “With this new contract, our families can live a little better.”
The main point of contention in contract negotiations was maintaining a majority full-time work force. Cleaning contractors wanted to eliminate full-time hour guarantees. The agreement reached keeps the majority of the workforce at full-time status with company-provided benefits. The contract also includes a $.20 per hour wage increase in 2014.
“We all won today,” said SEIU Local 1 president Tom Balanoff. “The community came together in Columbus and chose prosperity over poverty, full-time work over part-time work. This victory brings hope to security officers, fast food workers, and others trapped by poverty wages.”
Janitors went on strike in multiple Columbus office buildings over the past few months. Employees alleged that cleaning companies had repeatedly violated federal law by harassing and intimidating employees after they called for job improvements. The janitors’ struggle garnered support from religious leaders, elected officials, and community groups in central Ohio.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2013
Contact: Ivan Moreno | email@example.com | 773.799.6455
With contract talks for hundreds of Milwaukee-area janitors to begin tomorrow…
Milwaukee – SEIU Local 1 janitors rallied today with the support of local leaders like Alderman Tony Zielinski to kick off contract negotiations between hundreds of Milwaukee janitors and some of the largest janitorial contractors in the country. Janitors are joining a growing movement in the nation’s low wage workforce that is calling on the country’s richest corporations to create good jobs that can sustain local communities.
“We can actually do something about poverty in Milwaukee by fighting for good jobs,” said Jeryllyn Jeanes, a Milwaukee janitor and 19-year union member. “This is about respect and receiving fair wages for the hard work that we do every day.”
Union janitors with SEIU Local 1 are proposing a fair wage increase and maintained access to affordable health care. When low wage workers like Milwaukee’s janitors are forced to rely on publicly funded programs, taxpayers are essentially subsidizing the profits of corporations like BMO Harris and the janitorial contractors that they hire.
“Milwaukee janitors are uniting to create good jobs that move our city forward,” said Alderman Tony Zielinski. “We do our part to make Milwaukee strong. Now we call on Milwaukee’s employers to do their part and help create a city that is prosperous for all of us.”
Janitors rallied in front of BMO Harris Bank, a corporation that made $4.1 billion last year alone, but whose janitors, employed by CleanPower, are paid poverty wages with no benefits. In fact, according to the state of Wisconsin, more than 300 of CleanPower’ s Wisconsin employees and more than 500 of their children already rely on public benefits to obtain health care.
Many Milwaukee janitors qualify for and depend on a host of public assistance programs to make ends meet. With the fourth highest poverty rate of any major city in the nation and a high rate of racial income disparity, janitors see a fair contract as a direct way to address Milwaukee’s growing wealth inequality. The current agreement covers more than 400 Milwaukee janitors and expires on December 31, 2013. Talks to negotiate a new agreement are set to start tomorrow, November 20.
SEIU Local 1 unites 50,000 property service workers in the central United States, including janitors, security officers, and food service workers. Together we work to build strength for all working people, on the job and in our communities.
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.
A group of Cincinnati janitors went on strike Thursday after enduring what they describe as intimidation and harassment from their employer.
About 60 or 70 people came out to the corner of Fourth and Vine streets at about 5 p.m. Thursday, picket signs in tow. Family members joined the line, including kids who normally would have been out trick-or-treating.
Service Employees International Union Local 1 janitors announced the strike in an afternoon press conference Downtown.
A group of SEIU Local 1 janitors working in Columbus called a strike after raising similar concerns with employers in August.
The local represents about 200 workers for New York-based facility services company ABM, but only a portion of those workers are going on strike. The workers primarily service Downtown commercial buildings.
An SEIU regional spokeswoman said the strike could be expanded.
“Cincinnati janitors are calling attention to this rising income inequality and its impact on our communities,” according to a statement from SEIU Local 1.
“Despite cleaning the headquarters of some of the biggest and richest companies in the country, full-time janitors are paid less than $18,000 a year-below the poverty level for a family.”
In a note sent to regional clients about a year ago, members of the Cincinnati Area Contractors Association said it would continue to try and work a mutually beneficial deal with the union. The association includes ABM.
Negotiations remain stalled.
“Despite our good-faith efforts, the SEIU cut off bargaining at the end of October without putting forth a realistic proposal,” the note said.
“They continue to demand increases that are simply unrealistically high, given the economic challenges and customers’ needs to manage costs carefully, as well as recent increases we’ve provided.”
The group also told contractors that its member companies provide good wages, health care benefits, paid vacations and holidays and job training to workers. The companies also said workers make 40 percent more now than they did five years ago.
Day porter Chenicka Lynn, 33, of Cincinnati said instead of going out with her children to trick-or-treat Thursday night, she joined the picket line in support of union members. She said many people are struggling to make ends meet going to work and they’re upset that bargaining representatives have said the company may not increase wages.
Rockdale Baptist Church Pastor Rousseau O’Neal said the company that had $4 billion in revenue last year should be able to pay people a wage where they would not be in poverty.
“It’s important for everyone to be in an uproar,” O’Neal said.