Ohio

Cleaning House: Janitors Strike Against New York City-based Contractor ABM [Cincinnati CityBeat]

If Chenicka Lynn had a choice, she wouldn’t need to be on food stamps.

She wouldn’t be on food stamps and she would have spent Halloween night trick-or-treating with her four children.

Instead, she stood with them in the rain outside of the Fourth and Vine building downtown where she works a 40-hour week as a janitor, striking against what she and more than 60 of her Greater Cincinnati union members and co-workers have described as threats and intimidation from their multi-billion-dollar employer, ABM, in response to requests for better pay, fair hours and access to health care.

New York City-based ABM, which reported $4.3 billion in revenue in 2012, is one of the nation’s largest providers of commercial maintenance and cleaning services for clients across the country. In Cincinnati, it services a number of the city’s Fortune 500 offices, including PNC, Macy’s, Procter & Gamble and Fifth Third Bancorp. ABM is the middle man — corporations contract ABM for cleaning services, and ABM hires the janitors who clean the corporations’ offices.

Conveniently, that also means that the corporations whose offices janitors like Lynn clean every day — who often receive hefty tax incentives to stay headquartered in Cincinnati — have no tangible responsibility to or relationship with the workers who keep their offices operational and professional. That’s largely a practicality issue — it’s easier for a multi-tenant building to pass off cleaning responsibilities for the whole building to one entity rather than each business, for example, having a separate janitorial staff on payroll. But that distance — and ABM’s lack of obligation to the city of Cincinnati and its economy — has brought the company tremendous ire from its employees and community leaders who are critical of ABM’s employee treatment.

Lynn, 33, has been an ABM employee for almost eight years. She remembers earning $8.50 an hour when she started in 2006 and now makes $9.80 an hour for her full-time workweek. The pay increases over time haven’t quite kept up with inflation — she’s actually 7 cents behind the $9.87 an hour she would be earning had her 2006 wage been adjusted for inflation.

She says she’s the only full-time janitor working in the 31-story Fourth and Vine building; the rest work part-time.

Those issues are at the core of the quarrel between ABM and members of a local chapter of Service Employees International Union (SEIU Local 1) like Lynn, who have been engaged in negotiations turned brawls for more than a year.

On Thursday, Oct. 31, ABM janitors went on strike against the company. ABM’s contract with Cincinnati’s SEIU Local 1 employees expired last October, and official negotiations were halted shortly thereafter when SEIU and ABM failed to mediate terms for a new contract. Since then, SEIU members have endured harassment and threats at work following their requests for a new agreement, says Leslie Mendoza Kamstra, communications director for SEIU Local 1.

According to Mendoza Kamstra, the protests in Cincinnati spurred from news of altercations in Columbus, where several ABM protestors were recently arrested during a nonviolent act of civil disobedience. Central Ohio SEIU workers are also lobbying for a new contract, but ABM stopped negotiations on Sept. 30.

According to SEIU Local 1, most of ABM’s full-time janitors are paid less than $18,000 a year, and the company has come under scrutiny across the Midwest for its support of a new business model that would shift to a largely part-time workforce, slashing incomes and depriving employees of access to ABM health care, at which point many will be paid so little they qualify for government assistance just to get by. Even though Lynn works full-time, she still relies on food stamps to support her family every month.

Councilman Chris Seelbach attributes corporations’ aloof attitudes toward low-wage employees like Lynn for a slew of problems in Cincinnati — particularly the absence of a robust working middle class. Seelbach says having a working middle class “would change everything” by increasing the amount of self-sustainable taxpayers who can finance city services such as police and fireighters.

SEIU Local 1’s Mendoza Kamstra says workers are calling on ABM to be a “good neighbor” to Cincinnati by providing local workers with the hours, pay and benefits they need to survive and flourish. But, according to the city’s Office of Economic Development, ABM isn’t receiving tax incentives to operate in Cincinnati, so maintaining the city’s economic vitality isn’t exactly a priority of theirs.

Seelbach says the city’s best leverage against companies like ABM is rallying public opinion and encouraging local corporations contracting ABM’s services who do have a stake in Cincinnati’s economic vitality — and the power to work with a different service provider — to urge ABM to be a better steward for its employees. “These aren’t companies that are barely surviving. These are billion-dollar companies,” he says.

The city of Cincinnati has more Fortune 500 companies per capita than Los Angeles, New York or Chicago, but one in three Cincinnatians live in poverty. That number skyrockets to more than 50 percent when looking at the child poverty rate in the city.

According to the National Housing Conference, 2013 fair market for a two-bedroom apartment is $740, which requires an annual income of $29,600 to afford. The Cincinnati area’s median salary for janitors is $24,453, and that’s almost $6,000 above what full-time ABM janitors claim to make annually.

Chas Strong, who manages corporate communications for ABM, sent CityBeat a statement the company issued to its clients months ago on the negotiations, which denies any allegations of threats or intimidation.

Lynn has returned to work in hopes that the publicity will urge ABM to change its conduct, but she’s ready to return to the picket line if that’s what it takes.

“It’s all about me trying to show my four kids what to stand up for, when to stand up for it and they already see the struggle I go through every day,” she says.

By Hannah McCarthy, November 6, 2013.





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Cincinnati Janitors Announce ULP Strike

In the midst of an expanding janitors strike in Ohio…

Cincinnati Janitors to Strike in Response to Employer Misconduct, Councilman Seelbach, Pastor O’Neal Urge ABM to Support Good Jobs

Cinci 2October 31, 2013; Cincinnati—Cincinnati janitors announced that they will go on strike today after facing intimidation and harassment from national employer ABM. Columbus janitors have also gone on strike—and today citizens from across the Midwest were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience there—to protest similar alleged violations of Federal law from ABM. Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati janitors and community leaders including Pastor Rousseau O’Neal called on ABM to stop intimidating workers and to support good jobs for Cincinnati.

“ABM is a multi-billion dollar corporation that should be creating good jobs and supporting Cincinnati, but instead they are holding us back,” says City Councilman Chris Seelbach.

While Cincinnati is home to a large concentration of Fortune 500 companies, the poverty rate is double that of the state and nearly half of all children in the city live in poverty. Cincinnati janitors are calling attention to this rising income inequality and its impact on our communities. 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.

“I work hard to take care of my four kids. But I still struggle just to keep a roof over our heads,” says Shaneka Lynn, janitor at ABM for 8 years. “I’m going on strike because I know it’s what I have to do to stand up for my rights.”

While janitors have been seeking decent wages, affordable health care and full-time hours, they have been met with intimidation from New York City based ABM—a multi-billion dollar national corporation that refuses to support good jobs for Cincinnati.  This alleged conduct—prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act—is similar to what janitors are reporting in Columbus, where janitors have been striking and supporters have been arrested in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.

ABM is under fire across the Midwest for indicating a new business model of part-timing its janitorial workforce, which would drastically cut incomes and force hundreds more Ohio janitors to rely on taxpayer programs to meet basic needs such as healthcare, food, and housing.

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SEIU Local 1 unites 50,000 property service workers in the central United States, including janitors and security officers. Together we work to build strength for all working people, on the job and in our communities.

Contact: Leslie Mendoza Kamstra, 773-896-7815mendozal@seiu1.org





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VIDEO! 12 Arrested in Protest Over Janitorial Contracts [Columbus Dispatch]


Dozens of protesters swirled outside of PNC Bank Downtown during the lunch hour today, banging pots and waving signs as the battle swells between local janitors and national janitorial contractor ABM.

Inside the bank, Columbus police calmly arrested 12 protesters who sat on the lobby floor and chanted: “ABM, you’re no good. Treat your workers like you should.”

Ten people were arrested during a similar protest earlier this month in in the Fifth Third Center Downtown.

Spokespeople for the Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents the janitors, say stalled contract negotiations between janitors and ABM are leading to an imminent strike in Columbus.  Janitors in Cincinnati went on strike today, they said.

By Lori Kurtzman, October 31, 2013.



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Negotiations Break Down Again In Downtown Janitor Strike [NBC4i]

COLUMBUS, Ohio –

One day after their last strike, negotiations broke down between hundreds of Columbus janitors and the company that employs them.

The janitors are taking to the streets again Tuesday night, in hopes that a second protest sends a stronger message that they want their hours and healthcare benefits to remain.

Dozens of Columbus janitors, representing more than 1,000 of their peers, are striking in front of Fifth Third Bank in downtown Columbus.

The janitors said they are being paid $18,000 a year, and can’t afford to have their full-time status or benefits cut.

They said New York-based ABM, a multi-million dollar national corporation, wants to cut them to part-time status.

Claude Smith is a 66-year-old veteran, who said that after eight years of scrubbing the lobby and picking up trash on 22 floors of the Fifth Third building, he deserves better.

Smith said his union has been fighting ABM for decent wages and affordable healthcare for about a year.

Tim Reilly, lead negotiator for the Columbus Area Service Contractors Association released the following statement Tuesday:

“The Columbus Area Service Contractors Association is fully committed to reaching an agreement in the mutual best interest of all parties, including employees, customers and contract cleaning companies alike.

“Over the last two years of the collective bargaining agreement, many of our employees have received wage increases totaling over 18 percent, as well as paid vacation and holiday time and other benefits.  The union’s latest proposal failed to recognize these prior substantial increases received by employees.  We recognize that, in these economic times, customers need to manage costs very carefully.

“We will continue to work hard at the bargaining table to achieve a successful resolution and remain convinced that such a resolution is possible.”

The janitors said they plan to take their strike inside the building Wednesday.

By: Denise Yost, Multimedia Content Manager



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10 Arrested for Protesting on Behalf of Striking Janitors [ABC6]

Columbus police officers arrest Kenyon College professor Edward Schortman after he and other demonstrators staged a sit-in inside the lobby of the Fifth Third Center on E. State Street. [Dispatch]

Police have arrested ten people who chanted inside a Downtown building to support striking janitors. The protesters knew they would be trespassing when they entered the lobby of the Fifth Third Bank Building on Wednesday according to police. They were arrested after chanting inside the building for 15 minutes. The demonstration was organized to show support for a group of janitors who work at two Downtown buildings who walked off the job earlier this week after their union engaged in a year-long attempt to negotiate a new contract. Service Employees International Union (SCIU) leaders claim they have met stern resistance as they have worked to strike a new deal, which they believe should include the creation of more full time positions. “Employees have been harassed, intimidated, and even threatened at work for being involved in union activity around our campaign to get a fair contract for janitors,” union member Tyler French said. Union leaders say they stopped negotiating with cleaning service provider ABM two weeks ago because of company officials’ desire to cut the weekly hours of several employees. None of those arrested Wednesday are janitors. All were cited and released after they were taken into custody.

Updated: Wednesday, October 16 2013, 08:18 PM EDT COLUMBUS (Ken Hines)




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Community Supporters of Striking Columbus Janitors Take Arrest in Act of Civil Disobedience

***For IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Contact: Leslie Mendoza Kamstra 773-896-7815 or mendozal@seiu1.org

After repeated violation of workers’ rights under Federal law…

Community Supporters of Striking Columbus Janitors Take Arrest in Act of Civil Disobedience

CDColumbus, OH—In the midst of an expanding Columbus janitors’ strike, community supporters, including academics, concerned residents and labor activists, were arrested in an act of civil disobedience in the lobby of Fifth Third bank in downtown Columbus today. Arrestees called the city’s attention to illegal retaliatory activity by janitorial contractor ABM and others reported by janitors who have been standing up for decent wages, affordable health care and full-time hours.

“I was a business owner and my employees had a union. I know what it means to be a responsible employer,” said David Girves, a concerned Columbus resident. “I understand that contractors want to cut janitors’ hours back so they don’t have to provide health care. Their employees are facing retaliation for standing up. That’s not right and that’s why I got arrested today.”

With the Columbus janitors’ rolling, city-wide strike entering its third day, the community is rallying together to call on contractors to cease all retaliatory activity and support good jobs for Columbus working families. While janitors have been seeking decent wages, affordable health care and full-time hours, they have been met with threats and intimidation from their employers—especially ABM, a multi-million dollar national corporation that refuses to support full-time, family sustaining jobs for Columbus workers. Janitors employed by ABM, Aetna Building Maintenance and Professional Maintenance are striking to protest this conduct.

“This is the first time I’ve been in a union and at first I wasn’t sure which side I should be on, the union side or my employer’s side,” said Arturo Lopez, a Columbus janitor employed by ABM. “But now that I’ve been working with my union and the community, I see the importance of coming out together to create justice and fight for our families.”

As Columbus’s poverty rate rises, janitors are calling attention to the income inequality that’s plaguing our city. Despite helping the Fortune 1,000 companies headquartered in Columbus to profit over 5 billion dollars, the janitors who clean their buildings are paid just $18,000 a year—far less than it takes to raise a family here. The contractors demand for a majority part-time workforce would drastically cut incomes and force hundreds more janitors to rely on taxpayer programs to meet basic needs such as healthcare, food, and housing.

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SEIU Local 1 unites 50,000 property service workers in the central United States, including janitors and security officers. Together we work to build strength for all working people, on the job and in our communities.




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In Janitor Contract Talks, ABM Takes the Lead in Placing Profits Over People [Examiner.com]

by Steve Palm-Houser, 10/4/2013.

After promising negotiations between Columbus janitors and cleaning contractors ended a strike at the Lazarus building last week, contract talks broke down again on Monday whenABM Industries took the lead in refusing to support full-time, family-sustaining jobs.

The Columbus Area Service Contractors Association, which represents seven companies who clean downtown office buildings, want the majority full-time workforce to be slashed to majority part-time. This would drastically cut janitors’ wages and disqualify most of them from company-provided health insurance.

Columbus Dispatch editorial blames the janitors’ predicament on the Affordable Care Act, which increases some employers’ obligations in providing their workers with health insurance. The Dispatchalso attacks SEIU Local 1, arguing that the janitors’ union is hurting its own members by supporting the ACA.

Melanie Harvey exposes theDispatch’s specious reasoning in her letter to the editor: “Cutting full-time workers to part-time to avoid buying health insurance is not a decision forced by the Affordable Care Act. It’s a choice made by companies that want to have profits safely in their pockets rather than provide for basic needs of the people who perform the labor so the company can keep making money.”

ABM can well afford to share some of its high profit margin with its workers in the form of health care benefits. Its refusal to do so reflects on its corporate values, not on the health care law.

The Fortune 1000 companies who own or lease the buildings where the janitors work are also complicit in their struggle. These corporations are in a position to pressure the cleaning contractors to treat their workers fairly. They could also make this easier for the contractors by paying them more for their services. That fact that they haven’t can only mean one thing: they care only about keeping their costs low and their profits high. The janitors be damned.

ABM provides cleaning services for Nationwide, Fifth Third Bank, and PNC Bank.

“We work hard. All we want is respect and better jobs for our families. We came to the table hoping to reach an agreement with our employers,” said Claude Smith, an ABM janitor and member of the bargaining team. “But we left disappointed that ABM, a rich corporation, refuses to support good jobs for our city.”




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Negotiations Break Down for #ColumbusJanitors

Negotiations broke down Monday (September 30) when ABM, the largest cleaning contractor, refused to support full-time, family sustaining jobs for Columbus.

Freda Pridgen, Columbus Janitor, speaking at a rally on September 23rd.

Freda Pridgen, Columbus Janitor, speaking at a rally on September 23rd.

Columbus—Negotiations for a city-wide janitorial contract broke down yesterday when cleaning contractors chose personal profits over good jobs for the Columbus economy. New York City based ABM, a multi-million dollar national corporation, took the lead in refusing to support full-time, family sustaining jobs for Columbus workers.

According to contractors, their clients—for ABM, this includes corporate building owners and tenants like Nationwide, Fifth Third Bank and PNC Bank—want the majority full time workforce to be slashed to majority part time. If janitors submitted to this demand, wages for nearly 1,000 working families in Columbus would be cut in half and hundreds of families would be forced to turn to public assistance programs for income support and health care.

“We work hard. All we want is respect and better jobs for our families. We came to the table yesterday hoping to reach an agreement with our employers,” said Claude Smith, an ABM janitor and member of the bargaining team. “But we left disappointed that ABM, a rich corporation, refuses to support good jobs for our city.”

Columbus’s unemployment rate is better than the national average, yet one in four children live in poverty. Their parents are working, but are not paid enough to support their families. Decisions to slash hours and block access to affordable health care are plaguing our local economy as taxpayers are forced to bear the burden for employers. Janitors in Columbus clean some of the most expensive real estate in the world, yet are paid just $18,000 a year—if they work full time—and already qualify for a variety of public assistance programs, including Section 8 and food stamps.

The disappointing breakdown in negotiations comes just days after Columbus area janitors went on a one day unfair labor practice strike against Professional Maintenance on September 24. Cleaning companies have been habitually violating federal law by harassing and intimidating their employees after they began standing up for job improvements. The strike gained national attention at a time when our country is in the midst of a debate over who is responsible for creating good, family-sustaining jobs.

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Health-care Law Doesn’t Dictate Company Layoffs [Columbus Dispatch]

Can we just make one thing clear about the Sept. 20 Dispatch editorial “Harming the working class,” which states that the unions have hurt their members by supporting the Affordable Care Act?

The Dispatch seems to want everyone to believe that the health-care law is forcing local cleaning companies to cut full-time employees from 70 percent to 15 percent of their work force. ABM Industries Inc., a large local janitorial service in Columbus, states quite clearly in its annual report to shareholders that in 2012, ABM’s janitorial operating profit exceeded $135 million.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but profit is the money left over after all the bills are paid.

Cutting full-time workers to part-time to avoid buying health insurance is not a decision forced by the Affordable Care Act. It’s a choice made by companies that want to have profits safely in their pockets rather than provide for basic needs of the people who perform the labor so the company can keep making money.

The word for that is actually greed, not Obamacare.

MELANIE HARVEY

Columbus

by Melanie Harvey (Letter to the Editor), September 29, 2013.




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Janitors back at work as contract talks continue [Columbus Dispatch]

by Mark Williams, September 26, 2013.

Hundreds of Columbus janitors have gone back to work after a one-day strike on Tuesday.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents about 1,000 workers, said the workers returned to work Wednesday night after progress was made on reaching a new agreement with cleaning contractors. More negotiations are set for Monday.

The union has said the contractors who employ the janitors have been demanding that they work fewer hours as a way to cut costs and reduce benefits.

The union has been negotiating with the Columbus Area Service Contractors Association, which represents seven cleaning companies.




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