More than 700 SEIU Local 1 members and supporters shared what was important to them and how our union can improve in our 2014 Member and Supporter Survey.
The most important issues to participants were creating good jobs that can support a family and reducing income inequality in our country. The aspects of their jobs they most want to improve are their wages, your retirement benefits and your healthcare.
Local 1 members and supporters are fighting to achieve all of these goals.
Participants – mostly members – described the SEIU Local 1 mission in their own words, but many used the same ones. Words like lead, fight, help, strengthen, organize, advocate and build. SEIU Local 1 members and supporters do all of those things every day without tiring.
As a union and as a country, we face a lot of challenges. Working together is the only way to win better wages and benefits and start addressing income inequality in our country. SEIU Local 1 understands that we are all striving for the same goal and together we can realize it.
Check out the survey results—and thank you for staying connected.
Dina Smith sits down at the kitchen table with a small stack of bills every two weeks and asks herself the same question.
“What needs to be taken care of right this second?”
Her twice-monthly paycheck of about $350 means her options are usually limited to paying utilities and restocking a near-empty refrigerator. She’ll put off repairs to her broken-down 2001 Saturn – again – and try to find a few dollars for bus fare instead.
This is life today in one of the tens of thousands of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky households that survive on the paycheck of a low-wage breadwinner.
Now, their numbers are growing faster, putting more families at risk and slowing an already fragile economic recovery regionwide. Everyone feels the sting when households have less money for homes, furniture, cars, TVs, toasters, smartphones and new shoes.
It’s a legacy of the crash that families and the wider economy may suffer with for years.
A study by the National Employment Law Project finds that low-wage jobs, or those it defines as paying less than $14 an hour, have dominated the economic recovery, often at the expense of better-paying jobs.
The group’s Census-based research shows that low-wage jobs accounted for about 20 percent of job losses during the recession, but almost 60 percent of jobs gained during the recovery.
Mid-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 60 percent of recession losses, but only about 20 percent of recovery growth.
“It’s very challenging,” said Smith, who supports three sons in Cumminsville on the $9.80 an hour she earns working as a janitor. “We have to live paycheck to paycheck.”
Life ‘more precarious’ for low-wage workers
Low-wage jobs always have been an important part of the economy, whether they’re fast-food jobs that give teenagers their first taste of the working world, or entry-level jobs for adults who want to learn a trade or bring in some extra money for their family.
The difference now is that those jobs increasingly are supporting families, rather than supplementing the income of a better-paid breadwinner.
Since the recession, the number of households with one wage earner has climbed almost 6 percent, according to the U.S. Census. At the same time, the median income of households with one wage earner has fallen almost 4 percent.
So as more families have become reliant on one income, the value of that income has dropped.
“Their lives are more precarious,” said Randy Albelda, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who has studied the expansion of low-wage jobs. “When a large number of people supporting families can’t do it, then you have a problem.”
The trend toward more low-wage breadwinners has helped fuel the national debate over raising the minimum wage, which is $7.95 in Ohio and $7.25 in Indiana, Kentucky and other states tied to the federal minimum wage.
Albelda’s latest research found that as many as 20 million people, about half the low-wage workers in America, are household breadwinners. She defined low-wage breadwinners as primary earners who make less than $11 an hour, or about $23,000 a year.
She estimated that between 10 and 14 percent of adult workers now earn a low wage and rely on those earnings to support a household, the biggest share since at least the 1980s.
The instability of low-wage jobs often creates as many problems as the low pay, Albelda said. Benefits typically are minimal, or non-existent, and layoffs or reduced hours are common as employers try to shave costs.
That’s certainly been Smith’s experience. She once worked full eight-hour days, but those hours have been cut to less than five since the recession.
If she misses work because of illness, as she did a few weeks ago, she doesn’t get paid. If her car breaks down, as it did last month, she’s dependent on the bus.
Smith, 43, has considered looking for a job with more hours, but after eight years with the same company, she fears starting over elsewhere will leave her more vulnerable to layoffs. She’s also thinking about taking on a second job, something she’s done in the past.
“A lot of janitors I know work two or three jobs. I’ve been there, done that,” Smith said. “We should be able to work one job, a respectable job, to live.”
Smith doesn’t receive food stamps or other public assistance, and she moved out of public housing and in with a friend because she felt the neighborhood was getting too rough for her 14-year-old son. Her daughter lives on her own, but her other sons, ages 20 and 18, still live at home.
Smith pays utilities and groceries; her friend pays the rent. She’s the only one in her household with a steady job and knows her family can’t survive on her income forever, especially if her hours get cut again.
“I may end up having to sleep in a car, and I don’t want to do that,” she said.
Competition greater for low-paying jobs
Smith, who has a high school diploma, is in some ways a typical low-wage worker. According to Albelda’s study, more than 54 percent are women, 43 percent are minorities and more than 90 percent don’t have a college degree.
During the recession, however, more educated workers slipped into the ranks of low-wage earners, which created problems not only for them, but for the less-educated workers they sometimes displaced.
“It’s a bit more competitive now,” said Chris Janson, Cincinnati metro market manager for the Robert Half staffing agency. “We’ve got folks willing to take less than they’re worth. They’re willing to do it for a limited time, until something better comes along.”
Janson said starting pay for some of those temporary jobs is between $10 and $15 an hour, although he said salaries are beginning to creep up and more options are becoming available to workers as the economy improves.
How much it will improve – and how long it will take wages to reach pre-recession levels – is a question economists have been wrestling with for years. Some fear lower pay and fewer benefits will become the new normal, because the labor pool is large and companies have learned to get by with less.
“This recession was an opportunity for a lot of employers to clear out a lot of people,” Albelda said. “It’s workers on demand now. In industry, they call it just-in-time inventory. So this is just-in-time workers.”
Growing uncertainty in the job market means households would be better off with a second wage earner, regardless of how much the primary wage earner is making. The Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts has found that many families now require at least two incomes to match or exceed the household income of the previous generation.
“Mobility is increasingly a family enterprise,” said Diana Elliott, a research officer at Pew. “Families need those second earners’ money to move them up the income ladder.”
The impact of more low-wage breadwinners isn’t limited to the breadwinners’ families. If paychecks cover little more than rent, utilities and groceries, the broader economy doesn’t benefit much.
“People have to make a lot of very tough choices,” said Leslie Mendoza Kamstra, spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents janitors, such as Smith, and security officers. “It’s not a high school kid. It’s someone supporting a family.”
Low-paying jobs have been part of Smith’s life since she started working more than 25 years ago. There was a time, she said, when those jobs were more plentiful, the hours were more reliable and the pay was better.
Today, Smith said, that stability is gone. Finding a new job, or a second job, may be the only way she can continue to support her family.
But she said that’s no easy task, either.
“It’s hard to find one job,” she said. “There’s so many people out here looking.” ■
More households survive on one (shrinking) income
Households with one wage earner in 2007: 43.3 million
Households with one wage earner in 2012: 45.8 million
Percent change since 2007: +5.8 percent
Median income of households with one wage earner in 2007: $45,082
Median income of households with one wage earner in 2012: $43,335
Percent change since 2007: –3.9 percent
Source: U.S. Census
Low-paying jobs rebound faster from recession
Share of job losses in recession
Low-wage jobs – 21 percent
Mid-wage jobs – 60 percent
High-wage jobs – 19 percent
Share of job gains in recovery
Low-wage jobs – 58 percent
Mid-wage jobs – 22 percent
High-wage jobs – 20 percent
Definitions: Low-wage jobs are defined as median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, mid-wage jobs are $13.84 to $21.13, and high-wage jobs are $21.14 to $54.55.
Source: National Employment Law Project analysis of U.S. Census data
What is the minimum wage?
Ohio: $7.95 for non-tipped employees; $3.98 for tipped employees
Kentucky: $7.25 for non-tipped employees; $2.13 for tipped employees
Indiana: $7.25 for non-tipped employees; $2.13 for tipped employees
Federal: $7.25 for non-tipped employees; $2.13 for tipped employees
Source: U.S. Department of Labor
On Saturday, March 15, janitors in Cincinnati ratified a new three-year contract that includes a wage increase and that protects access to affordable health care. In a city where CEO pay and corporate profits are up yet half of all children live in poverty, this new contract gives hope to thousands of low-wage workers.
“This helps our communities–the more you make, the more you can spend within the community. With the raise we won, we’ll worry less about bills and groceries, and our lives will be a little better.”
-Janitor Robert Richardson, ABM, 4th and Vine
Janitors clean the offices of the most profitable corporations in Cincinnati—including many Fortune 500s—but they are paid so little that many janitors qualify for public assistance. Cleaning contractors’ initial demands would have pushed janitors further into poverty by freezing wages for two years, and cutting hours and benefits. For more than a year, janitors and faith, community and elected leaders urged business leaders to do their part to protect much-needed good jobs—and they won.
Now with this new contract, janitors and their families can continue on the pathway out of poverty. The modest increase will help enable hundreds of families to make ends meet and everyone will reap the benefits of a stronger economy and a brighter future for our communities.
View our annual report to see what Local 1 has accomplished in 2013:
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.
By an overwhelming margin, Columbus janitors approved a new union contract on Saturday that protects full time hours and raises wages for nearly 1,000 janitors. The contract, which goes into effect January 1st, gives hope to the millions of low wage workers who work hard, but still struggle to provide for their families.
“We proved that when workers join together, we have strength. This is a huge victory for all hard working janitors,” said Claude Smith a bargaining committee member and janitor who works for ABM. “With this new contract, our families can live a little better.”
Cleaning companies’ initial demands would have pushed janitors further into poverty by eliminating full-time hours and freezing wages. But janitors fought back with support from religious leaders, elected officials and community groups in Columbus and around the country. And the y won—the agreement reached ensures full-time work for a majority of janitors and secures a $.20 wage increase in 2014. This modest increase will help workers and their families continue on the pathway out of poverty.
Columbus janitors clean the offices of some of the wealthiest corporations in the country. At a time when big corporations are posting record profits at the expense of hard-working people, janitors’ efforts are helping restore the balance in our economy and secure the good middle class jobs our communities need. This crucial victory is a win for us all.
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.
Stay informed on what is happening across your local.
“ABM is a national, multi-million dollar corporation. But SEIU is national too. Every SEIU city across the country is help to win this fight, not just for Columbus but for all hardworking people everywhere! “
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