Diane Hudson wants a new union contract that will bring her family out of poverty. She works as a janitor at the Columbus Academy, a private PreK-12 school in Gahanna. Hudson supports her elderly mother and struggles every month to make ends meet. A living wage would mean “we don’t have to be under so much stress, living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.
On October 29 hundreds of janitors held a rally at the Great American Tower in Cincinnati to kick off contract negotiations. The new contracts will affect 1,800 members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 in central and southern Ohio, including 800 janitors who work in the Columbus area. The current Columbus contract, which expires December 31, covers janitors who clean the offices of Columbus’ largest companies, including Nationwide, Huntington, JP Morgan Chase, and AEP.
Benefits are also an issue for Diane Hudson. “I’d like to get paid for PTO time,” she said. “Often when I put in for it, it’s denied. We also need a better health plan.” Hudson is not on her company’s insurance plan because she cannot afford the high premiums. “It would mean a great deal to me to be able to go to the doctor when I need to,” she said.
Hudson’s employer is Scioto Services, a cleaning company that contracts janitorial services to the Columbus Academy. Full-time tuition at Columbus Academy ranges from $17,500 to $25,000 a year. Its annual operating budget is $25.7 million.
(Chanting) “Fix it, fund it, make it fair.”
Cleveland resident Sandra Ellington says many low income people who depend on buses can’t afford the $85 dollar pass she buys each month just to ride.
“We live in one of the richest countries in the world. There is no excuse for this. We have got to figure out a way. We can’t do it on the backs of the working poor. That’s unacceptable in my book.”
The research, from Florida Atlantic University, says families without sick-leave benefits, including those with children, are twice as likely to delay health-care treatment.
Working mother Carzella McGlothin of Cleveland says she worries about the spread of illness when people come to work instead of staying home when they’re sick.
And because she doesn’t have paid sick time, she loses money when she stays home to care for a sick child.
“A parent needs to be with their kids when they’re sick, because we know what they’re going through instead of putting it all on other people to watch our kids while we’re at work and they’re sick,” says McGlothin. “My family, we all pull together, but it’s kind of hard because everybody works. So, it’s a tough cookie trying to get it together.”
The study found people in low-wage jobs without benefits are most vulnerable, and sick workers are also more prone to injuries and making mistakes.
Only four states, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon, require employers to offer paid sick-time benefits.
This weekend, SEIU Local 1 members and staff from Ohio participated in the inaugural Movement for Black Lives Convening. Over 1,500 people of color gathered in Cleveland for this historic event representing groups including labor, human rights and others.
The SEIU Local 1 members, including Executive Board Member Sandra Ellington, Cleveland Janitor Mary L. Jones and Columbus Security Officer Greg Singleton, along with staff members Yanela Sims, Northern Ohio Coordinator, and Tarik Watson, Organizer, participated in the event, billed by organizers as an event featuring “hundreds of Black freedom fighters from around the country” coming together.
“I was blessed with the opportunity to attend, and I was honored with the invitation to be a panelist along with several other labor representatives,” said Yanela Sims. “We participated in workshops, met new people, and more importantly went out into our community and did some work.”
The event highlighted the issues people of color are facing, including unabated police violence, increasing criminalization, a failed economic system, a broken education system and the loss of communities to gentrification and development.
“It was a beautiful experience…the love was felt,” said Sandra Ellington. “This shows that we can come together as a people and learn from each other and that when we work together, we can accomplish many things. We shared thoughts, ideas, challenges and solutions around the movement. This event inspired and energized u all, and we came out of the weekend ready to move forward in our fight for working people and racial justice!”
As a result of their participation in the weekend event, both Ellington and Sims were featured in this week’s issue of Cleveland Scene magazine. In the article, Ellington and Sims discussed the intersection of the labor movement and the black lives movement, and labor’s role in the on-going conversations.
“In a lot of cases, when we talk about ‘black lives matter,’ we don’t really look at the labor component of that,” Sims said. “Racial inequality is often linked to low wages. They almost go hand in hand. When you’re at the bus stop waiting to go to to work or come home from work, when you’re being harassed by the police, that’s a problem. If you don’t have a job and you have to find other outlets to take care of your family, that’s an issue. SEIU is lending a voice to that, and I think labor in general is kind of moving toward acknowledging that they’re not separate issues. When you talk about race and black lives, you’re also talking about low-wage workers and the disparity between other groups of people. It’s common knowledge that lower-wage workers tend to be people of color and women, so when you have that discussion you have to talk about both of them.”
To view the rest of the article, go to:
“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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