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.
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.
Local 1 janitors in Columbus returned to work September 25th after going on strike the day before. Productive talks at the bargaining table on the 25th persuaded janitors to return to work in good faith that a fair agreement will be reached with cleaning contractors.
After standing up for decent wages, affordable health care and full time hours, employers responded to the janitors’ efforts to improve working conditions with threats and other conduct prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act. Janitors went on strike to protest this conduct.
“As a result of the bravery of the Columbus janitors who stood up for their right to fight for good jobs across the city, we have seen some productive conversations at the bargaining table today,” said Tyler French, SEIU Local 1 Regional Coordinator. “We are returning to the table on Monday where we will continue to stand strong for good jobs and the future of Columbus, which starts with Columbus janitors.”
Janitors who were scheduled to clean offices in the Lazarus building downtown did not show up for work yesterday. “Because of unfair labor practices by companies like Professional Maintenance and ABM, janitors have made the decision to go on strike,” said Tyler French of SEIU Local 1, the union that represents the janitors, at a rally outside the Lazarus building yesterday afternoon.
In response to the janitors’ organizing for a better contract, their employers have threatened and intimidated them — conduct that is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act, French said. “The building owners need to take into account whether the companies they hire to clean their buildings are violating federal law.”
Any building in Columbus where contractors are engaging in similarly unlawful conduct could be next in a rolling strike across the city, the union said.
The Columbus Area Service Contractors Association, which represents seven companies who clean downtown office buildings, wants to freeze janitors’ wages until 2015 and cut the number of full-time workers from 70 percent to 15 percent, leaving “hundreds of janitors with fewer hours and without company health insurance,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.
“This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we are doing what we have to do,” said Phillip Rudolph, a janitor at the Lazarus building. “We are standing up for a wage that will allow us to support our families. And in response we are being punished and harassed. So we decided together that we have to stand up for what’s right.”
“Once more we ask contractors to return to the bargaining table in good faith,” said Rhonda Johnson, president of the Columbus Education Association. “What the janitors are asking for is, in our judgment, modest and reasonable. A fair contract agreement would go great lengths to promote justice for janitors and good jobs for our city.”
“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,” said Tim Reilly, lead negotiator for the Columbus Area Service Contractors Association. “The union’s latest proposal failed to recognize these prior substantial increases received by employees.”
The association would not elaborate on how many of the janitors received an 18 percent raise, or what their wages were before the increase.
Contract talks between the janitors and the cleaning contractors are scheduled to resume today.
Janitors at the Lazarus building in downtown Columbus, Ohio, went on strike Tuesday, the first move in what could be a “strategic rolling strike” at other downtown buildings if negotiations between the contractors who employ the janitors and SEIU Local 1 don’t improve, according to union spokesperson Izabela Miltko.
On July 20, the membership voted unanimously to authorize a strike, and Miltko said the decision to walk out this week was provoked by ongoing “threats and intimidation” from employers, including instances where workers were “cornered and interrogated” about union activity, according to Miltko.
For months, the union has been demanding a contract with better wages, more full time work and more affordable benefits for about 1,000 janitors who have been working without a contract since January, as In These Times reported earlier this month. The janitors have been unionized since 2007, and this is the first time they have gone on strike. They currently earn an average of $18,000 a year, according to the union, and the contract that employers proposed in August would have reduced their income further by shifting more janitors to part-time work and increasing the cost of benefits, the union says.
“Employers are demanding wage freezes [and] health care cost hikes and aim to slash a majority full-time workforce to a majority part-time workforce,” said SEIU Local 1 president Tom Balanoff in a press release. “Janitors propose modest wage increases, affordable health care and full time hours.”
The Lazarus building is a former department store that was revamped as a LEED-certified “green” building and houses various state and municipal agencies, as well as the corporate offices of Huntington National Bank. A civic website describes the building as a “historical gem” and “urban icon”; the union says janitors who keep it clean should be treated accordingly.
The janitors and other Columbus unions have appealed to elected officials, pointing out that many of the companies whose offices are being cleaned receive public funding in various forms. The Lazarus building is home to the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation, a non-profit organization tasked with promoting development and economic growth in partnership with city officials. Janitors argue that paying them and other workers decent wages is intrinsic to a healthy local economy.
In a public statement, Lazarus janitor Phillip Rudolph said: “This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we are doing what we have to do… We are standing up for a wage that will allow us to support our families. And in response we are being punished and harassed. So we decided together that we have to stand up for what’s right.”
The union is negotiating with contractors, including the companies ABM, Professional Maintenance and Mid-American Cleaning Contractors, but the union says the banks and other corporations headquartered in the buildings are also responsible for the janitors’ well being.
“Ultimately, the corporations who own the buildings and employ these contractors decide what kind of jobs these will be,” said Miltko in a statement. “The Fortune 1000 companies headquartered in the Columbus area earned over $7.6 billion in profits in 2011, while their CEOs took home over $134 million in compensation… It would take a Columbus janitor working full time more than two years to make what these CEOs make in just one day.”
***For IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Contact: Leslie Mendoza Kamstra 773-896-7815 or email@example.com
After repeated violation of rights under Federal law…
Columbus janitors strike in response to employer misconduct, workers across the city to stand with them for good jobs
Columbus—Columbus janitors have called a strike. Workers report that they have been harassed and threatened by management after standing up for decent wages, affordable health care and full time hours.
In response to janitors’ efforts to improve working conditions, employers have engaged in threats and other conduct prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act. Janitors from the Lazarus building downtown—owned by taxpayer created and funded Columbus Downtown Development Corporations—announced tonight that they are striking to protest this conduct. Janitors say any building in Columbus where contractors are engaging in similarly unlawful conduct could be next in a rolling strike across the city.
“This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we are doing what we have to do,” says Phillip Rudolph, a janitor at the Lazarus building. “We are standing up for a wage that will allow us to support our families. And in response we are being punished and harassed. So we decided together that we have to stand up for what’s right.”
As Columbus’s poverty rate rises, janitors are calling attention to the income inequality that’s plaguing our city. Despite soaring profits for the Fortune 1,000 companies headquartered in Columbus, the janitors who clean their buildings are paid just $18,000 a year—far less than it takes to raise a family here. The janitorial contractors who employ the janitors are demanding that janitors work fewer hours, which will further cut incomes and force janitors to rely on taxpayer programs to meet basic needs such as healthcare, food, and housing.
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 and Professional Maintenance. Clergy, elected officials, labor and community supporters have appealed to publicly funded building owners in the area like Nationwide and the Columbus Downtown Development Project, who hire these cleaning companies, for support. However, contractors have not stopped violating the janitors’ rights under federal law. As a result, janitors at the Lazarus building are now on strike.
“Once more we ask contractors to return to the bargaining table in good faith,”says Rhonda Johnson, President of the Columbus EducationAssociation. “What the janitors are asking for is, in our judgment, modest and reasonable and a fair contract agreement would go great lengths to promote justice for janitors and good jobs for our city.”
Hundreds of Columbus janitors are threatening to strike if employers cut large numbers of full-time workers, a move prompted by fears of increased costs under the new federal health-care law.
The main sticking point in negotiations between the janitors’ union and the cleaning contractors is a proposal to slash the number of full-time workers from 70 percent to
15 percent of the workforce, the union said. That would leave hundreds of janitors with fewer hours and without company health insurance, which full-time janitors currently get.
Chicago-based Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents about 1,000 janitors, is bargaining with the Columbus Area Service Contractors Association, which represents seven cleaning companies.
The contractors association is trying to cut back on costs before the health-care law requires certain employers to provide insurance to full-time workers in 2015, the union said. The law will require firms with the equivalent of at least 50 full-time workers to offer health insurance to full-time employees, those who work 30 hours or more a week. Hours worked by part-time employees will also be used to calculate the equivalency.
Some of the cleaning contractors are local companies that might be able to get under the 50-employee threshold by reducing full-time staff, while others are larger, national companies.
They would hire more part-time workers to make up for the decrease in full-time janitors, said union spokeswoman Amanda Hart, allowing them to offer health insurance to fewer employees.
Additionally, monthly premiums for janitors with company health insurance would shoot up from $20 to $100 under the contractors association’s latest proposal, the union said. The contractors also want to freeze wages until 2015, when they’ll phase in a
15-cent per hour increase.
Hart said the cuts could push many janitors into poverty. On average, local full-time janitors make about $18,000 a year, she said.
“Columbus janitors are only attempting to stand up for good jobs that our city desperately needs,” she said.
The association would not comment on its proposals, though it said in a statement that many of the workers have received wage increases of about 18 percent, in addition to paid vacation and holiday-time benefits, during the past two years.
The two sides have been in negotiations since the last contract expired in January, and a meeting in August ended without an agreement. More than 300 janitors signed a petition last month in favor of a strike, but the union is holding on for an agreement, Hart said.
The two sides will go back to the bargaining table this month.
Dwayne Paige is a full-time janitor at the Huntington Center in Downtown, where he works from 5 p.m. to
1:30 a.m. He makes $10 an hour, which comes out to about $18,000 a year, barely enough, Paige said, to support his wife and 16-year-old stepdaughter, who has a learning disability.
Because he can’t afford a car, Paige bikes from his home on the South Side to work. The 44-year-old has diabetes and high blood pressure. Two months ago, he was hospitalized after his blood-sugar level got dangerously high.
The health insurance he gets from his employer, Florida-based CSI International, is vital, Paige said. Losing his company insurance and the possibility of fewer hours scares him.
“I’m fighting not just for me, but for my kid,” he said.
In the afterglow of the 50-year anniversary of an impromptu, off-script “I Have a Dream” speech by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fading from the national consciousness is the full name of the Aug. 28, 1963, event: the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In addition to King’s “I Have a Dream,” speech, also heard was: “The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery,” by a then-younger John Lewis, who currently serves as a Georgia Congressman.
The event called for the passage of civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial desegregation in public schools; protection from police brutality; and, the implementation of a major public-works project to stimulate job growth.
However, as the more than 250,000 attendees age, fading with them is the memory of one of the event’s key demands: adjust the federal minimum wage to match economic realities. Specifically, March organizers wanted the then wage of $1.25 increased to $2 per hour. In today’s dollars, based on an averaging of the Consumer Price Index, the 1963 figures equate to $9.54 and $15.27, respectively.
Fast-forward to 2013, the need, the fervor, and the urgency of the latter demand are again resonating in central Ohio and across the nation.
Fast food as well as service-oriented workers, including janitors, security officers, airport staff, and higher education food service workers are stepping from the shadows and making their plight known through a series of ongoing public campaigns.
Since December, the SEIU Local 1 bargaining unit representing nearly 1,000 Columbus janitors has been in negotiations with the firms contracted to clean many downtown commercial office buildings, including:
• Aetna Building Maintenance
• American Building Maintenance Service (ABM)
• Circle Building Services, Inc.
• O.C.M. Building Services Limited
• Professional Maintenance, Inc.
• Scioto Services, L.L.C.
The primary points of contention are the proposal for a two-year salary freeze, increasing the janitor’s share of healthcare premiums, and/or a reduction to part-time status, essentially disqualifying them for company-provided health insurance.
In July, bargaining unit members overwhelmingly approved an authorization vote setting the stage for a formal strike at any point. Neither side has met at the bargaining table since Aug. 1.
Calls from the Columbus Post to the respective corporate offices were unreturned at press time.
“Cleaning firms such as ABM, Professional Maintenance, Mid-American Cleaning Contractors, and Scioto Inc. boast annual revenues into the billions, but are paying the custodians an unsustainable wage of about $18,000 annually,” said SEIU spokesperson Ivan Moreno.
We believe that American Building Maintenance and Professional Maintenance, Inc. are the two primary contractors preventing a deal from being reached,” Moreno said. Both cleaning companies are contracted by Nationwide Insurance, Huntington Bank and the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation.
Moreno acknowledges that while these firms do not directly employ the janitors, “they certainly have influence over the terms and work atmosphere the cleaning companies provide to the janitors.”
Thursday, Sept. 5, bargaining unit members plan to deliver an oversized invoice to Nationwide Insurance demanding repayment of millions granted in tax breaks or to make good on its promise to deliver the 1,400 good paying jobs it promised. At press time, SEIU representatives had tentatively scheduled the event for noon.
“King had a dream, if you work hard, you should be able to provide for your family. This is simply not possible for thousands of low-wage workers in Columbus… to work full time and still not make enough to put food on the table is wrong,” said State Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard (D-26), reaffirming her support for SEIU Local 1 bargaining unit’s efforts.
Accordingly, in partnership with SEIU, Heard recently announced an ongoing food drive placing donation bins outside the office buildings throughout downtown traditionally staffed by SEIU janitors.
“Simply put, they are among the thousands of working people in our city who despite working full time, still qualify for public assistance,” said Tyler French, a SEIU Local 1 regional coordinator. “The vast majority of these workers are people of color, thus making Columbus increasingly segregated by race and class. … in an economy as healthy as Columbus,’ there is no excuse for this.”
French also said Columbus’ preponderance of low-wage jobs and efforts such as suppressing the janitors’ benefits mask the resulting “under-employment” as well as being a leading contributor to the rising poverty levels.
Moreno said SEIU has collectively represented the janitors since 2006. The janitors have been working without a contract since December. With a strike pending any day, the donations could make a big difference for the janitors forgoing paychecks to be heard.
Opinions vary on this question but simple theoretical economics suggests so.
Most employers are subject to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour; however, states and municipalities may set a higher benchmark. Effective Jan. 1, 2013, Ohio’s minimum wage was set to $7.85 an hour.
Working 40 hours per week for 52 per weeks per year without vacation or sick leave, the minimum wage provides $16,328 of pre-tax income, annually. This places the hypothetical worker above the defined federal poverty line; but, one could argue it says more about the federal poverty line than the affluence of this worker. In addition, there is no guarantee such workers can or would be actually scheduled to work full-time equivalent hours.
An April 2013 report by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program certainly supports the janitors (and fast food workers) argument. It says the number of poor in central Ohio have increased from eight to 24 percentage points over the last decade. It also states that the number and density of neighborhoods with poverty rates of 40 percent or more has risen by one-third since 2000.
The 2013 Ohio Poverty Report, an additional study, also illustrates how Columbus’ poverty rate has risen over the last decade from 14.8 percent in 1999 to 21.8 percent in 2011.
“Poor families – even if they’re working, are much more likely to receive public assistance than families above the poverty level,” states Don Larrick, the report’s principal analyst.
Representatives from various industry associations and franchise owners assert raising the minimum wage would have a negative impact on the employment rate of the population it is trying to help.
French and Moreno counter Columbus’ wealthiest companies did not succeed on their own.
“They received tens of millions of our tax dollars in the form of subsidies, all while contributing to rising poverty and increased strain on taxpayer-funded public assistance programs. Together, companies such as Huntington, Nationwide, and JPMorgan Chase have received an estimated $50,039,147 in state and local tax breaks,” said Moreno.
Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates LLC, the human resource research arm of Deloitte Consulting LLP, suggests that industry practices could be changed to address the initial cost of creating a livable wage by reevaluating employee retention practices, or lack thereof.
“Nearly all companies measure turnover. In some industries, especially retail, customer service and hospitality, the turnover rate approaches 30-40% and is accepted, but it’s not a sound strategy,” said Bersin, adding, “The cost of replacing an employee can range from 1.5x to 2x of their annual salary. Regardless of the role, tenured employees drive far greater value to any organization than those who are ‘cycling through’ the business.”
Philip Rudolph, a janitor at the Lazarus building in downtown Columbus says the days ahead will be difficult. “This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we are doing what we have to do by standing up for a wage that will allow us to support our families, and in response, we are being punished and harassed.”
***Advisory for Thursday, September 5th, 2013***
Contact: Amanda Hart, firstname.lastname@example.org or 832-969-6956
Janitors union calls on Mayor to investigate Nationwide Insurance’s compliance with its job creation agreement…
Janitors to Deliver Giant Bill, Urge Nationwide to Fulfill its Promises to Create Good Jobs and Economic Prosperity or Return $34 Million to Ohio Taxpayers
(Columbus) On Thursday, Columbus janitors and community supporters will deliver a bill from Ohio taxpayers to Nationwide for $34 million. The bill represents the amount of state and local tax breaks Nationwide has received since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008. As they deliver it, janitors will present Nationwide with a stark choice—either fulfill the company’s promise of creating good jobs and economic prosperity for the city or return the $34 million to taxpayers.
In exchange for benefiting from a downtown TIF district, Nationwide agreed to bring 1400 jobs to downtown Columbus by December, 2011. As of today taxpayers do not have evidence that this stipulation was met. That’s why janitors are urging Nationwide to follow through on its promise to create thousands of new jobs in Columbus while also supporting improvements to existing jobs—such as the jobs of janitors who work for ABM cleaning Nationwide’s premises.
ABM and other cleaning contractors negotiating a new union contract with some 1,000 Columbus janitors are demanding deep cuts to healthcare, working hours, and overall income that are likely to lead to more public subsidies when janitors are forced to rely on public clinics, food stamps, and housing programs just to make ends meet.
On Wednesday, September 4, SEIU Local 1, the janitors’ union, wrote a letter calling on Columbus Mayor Coleman to investigate Nationwide and force the company to fully comply with its TIF agreements with the city.
WHAT: BILL DELIVERY TO NATIONWIDE FOR GOOD JOBS
WHEN: Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 1 p.m.
WHERE: Nationwide Arena District, 375 N Front St Columbus, OH 43215
WHO: Columbus Janitors, Clergy, Electeds
VISUALS: Giant Blown up Bill, Colorful Signs, etc.
When a representative from SEIU Local 1 first showed up at Bobby Copley’s door in Columbus, Ohio, about two years ago, “I was about to throw her out of the house. I was totally anti-union,” says Copley.
Now, Copley, 34, is one of almost 1,000 union janitors in Columbus who may go on strike to demand better wages and working conditions. Janitors like Copley, who has an eight-year-old son, earn on average just $18,000 a year, according toSEIU Local 1, struggling to make ends meet while working tiring jobs that often put them in contact with caustic chemicals.
Columbus janitors have been unionized since 2007 and have signed contracts with contractors including ABM, Professional Maintenance, Mid-American Cleaning Contractors and Scioto to clean the corporate offices of companies like Huntington Bank, JPMorgan Chase, American Electric Power and Nationwide Insurance.
In early August, the employers proposed a contract that would shift more janitors from full-time to part-time work and increase the cost of health insurance. The union is demanding full-time work, higher wages and affordable benefits. Janitors have been working without a contract since January, and in August, contract negotiations stalled, SEIU Local 1 spokesperson Izabela Miltko told In These Times. On July 20, the membership voted unanimously to authorize a strike when union representatives decide it is necessary.
“Columbus janitors are taking a stand for the good jobs that our city desperately needs: full time jobs with fair wages and affordable health care,” Miltko told In These Times. “But some of the companies have responded to their employees’ efforts with threats and intimidation. Until those contractors end their campaign of intimidation and retaliation, janitors have decided they must strike over the alleged unfair labor practices.”
As Labor Day reminds Americans to think about workers’ rights and the role of organized labor in building our country, it’s worth noting that the Columbus janitors represent the modern face of the labor movement. Many thousands of manufacturing jobs have been offshored and lost to automation over the years, but the service sector has continued to grow as jobs like janitorial work, retail and health care can’t be outsourced. Unfortunately temporary and part-time work at low wages with few benefits is often the norm for such service sector employment.
“Labor Day is an occasion for celebrating working people in this country,” said Miltko. “But sadly, janitors in Columbus who are standing up for good jobs are faced with retaliation at work. They are poised to strike and are uniting to restore the middle class, bring good jobs to Columbus and raise wages for all working people so that their families and all Americans are a little more prosperous come next Labor Day.”
An SEIU Local 1 press document describes the situation of Columbus janitor Adilo Muse, who has four kids and an ailing mother. She works part-time cleaning the Lazarus Building in downtown Columbus. Muse’s husband works temporary jobs with erratic schedules, and the couple can’t afford day care. So, the document notes:
“If her husband is working, her mom has to watch the children when Adilo goes to work. Despite this, Adilo wants more hours – because if she was full-time, she would qualify for health care and vacation days. With no sick days and a ‘four-strike’ point system that can get her fired if she misses work, she can’t afford to take days off to care for her children or for herself.”
Copley, who grew up a “country boy” in an Ohio farm town, worked for 15 years as a short order cook before taking the janitorial job two years ago. He’s never had health insurance, and he’s currently struggling to pay off more than $30,000 in medical bills. He struggles with chronic muscular and skeletal aches in his chest that often make it feel like he’s having a heart attack. Uninsured, he worries what would happen if he really did have a heart attack.
Copley works night shifts cleaning the corporate headquarters of Huntington Bank; he estimates that he covers about 480 cubicles on the executive floor each shift. He previously cleaned restrooms, using chemicals “that dry out your skin.” He makes $10 an hour, which barely covers his rent for the apartment that he shares with a roommate.
“These companies need to realize they wouldn’t be pocketing millions and millions of dollars each year if it weren’t for people like us,” Copley told In These Times. “They need to get their heads out of the clouds. We’re all working people, we’re all out here trying to make a living and do the best that we can to survive in today’s society. It’s hard. That’s what they’re not seeing, sitting back in their easy chairs and raking in all this money, they don’t know what it’s like to be out here struggling from paycheck to paycheck.”
Copley has had a change of heart since his anti-union days, having participated in leadership trainings with the union. Copley, who is half Native American, is particularly interested in encouraging immigrant workers to stand up for their rights.
“These employers like to take advantage of them,” he said. “They come to live in our country to be free—not to be taken advantage of and mistreated.”
Copley thinks a strike could be “a good thing.”
“It’s going to bring not just all the janitors together—it could bring the Columbus community together as one instead of fighting against each other,” Copley said. “If we don’t stand up and fight for what we believe in, we’re not going to get the respect we deserve.”