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.”
*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
On the 50th Anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom…
House Democratic Leader Tracy Heard Carried on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy by Launching a Food Drive for Poverty Stricken Janitors
COLUMBUS, OH—This afternoon, on the 50th Anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, State Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard (D) launched a food drive in support of Columbus janitors who plan to strike for their right to fight for good jobs. As part of the 50th anniversary, Heard and the Columbus janitors rang bells at 4:04pm, the time Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have A Dream” speech ended, to carry on MLK Jr.’s legacy—part of today’s national bell-ringing ceremonies.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. And that dream was that in our country, if you work hard, you should be able to provide for your family. But that is simply not true for thousands of low wage workers in Columbus. It is wrong for someone to work full time and still not make enough to put food on the table. That is not the America Dr. King dreamed of 50 years ago. I am standing with the janitors for the right to fight for good jobs and the right to fight for a better future for all of us,” stated House Democratic Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard.
While the janitors were working to improve wages and benefits, some employers responded with threats and intimidation, forcing their janitors to call a strike to put an end to such retaliation.
“This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we are doing what we have to do,” says Philip Rudolph, a janitor at the Lazarus building in downtown Columbus. “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 our families.”
The food drive will be held throughout downtown Columbus with donation bins placed outside the downtown buildings where janitors work.
Downtown janitors clean the offices of some of the most profitable corporations and high profile buildings in Columbus—such as Nationwide Insurance, Huntington Bank and the Lazarus Building—but are paid about $18,000 on average. Although Columbus’s job growth remains strong, the poverty rate in our city has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. As economic mobility in Columbus becomes progressively unachievable, janitors are pulling together to fight for a path out of the cycle of poverty for working people.
SEIU Local 1 unites 50,000 property service workers in the central United States, including janitors, security officers and residential doormen. Together we work to build strength for all working people, on the job and in our communities.
Interested in fighting for dignity and justice in the workplace? SEIU Local 1 is hiring! See details below:
Read the new report from SEIU on the future of Columbus, Ohio: Columbus at a Crossroads
Low-wage, no benefit service jobs are replacing the good jobs of the past. Poverty wage jobs like these hurt our whole city. Columbus can do better. Service workers are uniting to restore the middle class, bring good jobs to our city, and raise wages for all working people. The business leaders in our city need to decide which direction our city will go.
*** Advisory for Wednesday, August 28th, 2013***
Contact: Amanda Hart, firstname.lastname@example.org or 832-969-6956
House Democratic Leader Tracy Heard Hosts Strike Food Drive for Poverty Stricken Janitors
COLUMBUS—State Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard (D) is fighting poverty in Columbus by standing with janitors poised to strike. Heard will host a food drive launched at a press conference in support of Columbus janitors who plan to strike for their right to fight for good jobs. While the janitors were working to improve wages and benefits, employers responded with threats and intimidation, forcing janitors to call a strike. The food drive will be held throughout downtown Columbus with donation bins placed outside the downtown buildings where janitors work.
Downtown janitors clean the offices of some of the most profitable corporations in Columbus—such as Nationwide Insurance, Huntington Bank, AEP Energy, and Fifth Third Bank—but are paid about $18,000 on average. Although Columbus’s job growth remains strong, the poverty rate in our city has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. As economic mobility in Columbus becomes progressively unachievable, janitors are pulling together to fight for a path out of the cycle of poverty.
What: Rep. Tracy Heard announces strike food drive for Columbus janitors at a press conference followed by rally
Where: Intersection of High and State, Columbus
When: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 3:30 PM
Visuals: Dozens of janitors and supporters, banners, and handmade signs. Volunteers behind tables with decorated boxes and signs with piles of canned goods and other non-perishables.
On Friday afternoon, janitors and community supporters held a rally outside the Columbus corporate offices of Fifth Third Bank to announce plans for the first janitorial strike in the city’s history.
Contract talks broke down on Wednesday between representatives of the janitors’ union and the companies who contract with Fifth Third Bank, Nationwide Insurance, JP Morgan Chase, Huntington Bank, and AEP Energy to clean their office buildings downtown. ABM Industries provides cleaning services for the Fifth Third Bank building.
“The offer that janitors made on Wednesday would have protected full time hours and access to affordable health care, and guaranteed modest wage increases that would have set hundreds of working families on a path out of poverty,” said Tyler French, regional coordinator for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1.
Some of Columbus’ most profitable corporations contract out cleaning services to companies that pay janitors $18,200 a year on average, said Ivan Moreno of SEIU Local 1. “Janitors are paid so little that they qualify for food stamps and other public assistance programs,” he said. “Low wage jobs like these are contributing to the rising levels of poverty in Columbus.”
Union organizers haven’t yet set a strike date. They will notify the janitors — who have been working without a contract since December — whether they will be out on strike this week.
“Going on strike is not an easy decision to make, but not having health care and not being able to provide for my family is not an option,” said Dwayne Paige, a Columbus janitor who participated in the negotiations. “Our city desperately needs good jobs and we want to start by making sure janitors are paid a decent wage with affordable health care.”
***For Immediate Release***
Contact: Ivan Moreno, (773) 799-6455, email@example.com
Janitors call on cleaning companies to invest in desperately needed good jobs for Columbus
Columbus— Janitors and supporters held a rally and press conference in front of 5/3 Bank, announcing plans for first janitorial strike in the city’s history. Talks between janitors and representatives from some of the country’s largest cleaning companies broke down during their last scheduled meeting on Wednesday. Negotiations have taken a dramatic turn that would force janitors deeper into the cycle of poverty. Some of the city’s most profitable corporations contract out cleaning services to companies that pay janitors about $18,200 on average.
While other cities in Ohio were hit hard by the recent economic downturn, Columbus’s corporations were largely unaffected; working families in our city were not so lucky. While Columbus’s unemployment rate remains well below the national average at 6.2 percent, the poverty rate in our city has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. The child poverty rate now stands at 26.5 percent. Columbus janitor’s wages are so low that they qualify for a host of public assistance programs, such as Medicaid, free or reduced price school lunches and subsidized housing. They also earn less than their counterparts in comparable cities.
“The offer that janitors made on Wednesday would have protected full time hours and access affordable health care, and guaranteed modest wage increases that would have set hundreds of working families on a path out of poverty,” said Tyler French, SEIU Local 1 regional coordinator.
Columbus janitors clean the offices of some of the richest corporations in the country, including 5/3 Bank, Nationwide Insurance, JP Morgan Chase, Huntington Bank, and AEP Energy. In spite of this, janitors are paid so little that they qualify for food stamps and other public assistance programs. Low wage jobs like these are contributing to the rising levels of poverty in Columbus.
“Going on strike is not an easy decision to make, but not having health care and not being able to provide for my family is not an option,” says Dwayne Paige, a Columbus janitor who directly participated in negotiations. “Our city desperately needs good jobs and we want to start by making sure janitors are paid a decent wage with affordable health care.”
*** Advisory for Friday, August 9th, 2013***
Contact: Ivan Moreno, (773) 799-6455, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dramatic Turn in Negotiations Threatens to Push Janitors Deeper into Poverty, Janitors Plan Strike for First time in City’s History
COLUMBUS—Janitors and supporters will hold a press conference in front of the 5/3 Bank to give an update on contract negotiations with some of the largest cleaning contractors in the country. Negotiation talks have taken a dramatic turn that may force janitors deeper into the cycle of poverty. Downtown janitors clean the offices of some of the most profitable corporations in Columbus—such as 5/3 Bank, Nationwide Insurance, AEP Energy, Chase and Huntington Banks—but are paid about $18,200 on average.
While Columbus’s unemployment rate remains well below the national average, the poverty rate in our city has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. Recently released statistics show Franklin County child poverty rates at 26.5 percent. Janitors are taking an unprecedented step to fight for good jobs that will ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for Columbus’s working families and not just the richest corporations.
What: Rally and press conference giving an update on contract negotiations
Where: In front of 5/3 Bank – 21 E State St, Columbus
When: 3:00 PM – Friday, August 9, 2013
Visuals: Dozens of janitors and supporters holding handmade sign, posters and banners outside of 5/3 Bank.
COLUMBUS, Ohio—Hundreds of members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 in Columbus are now authorized to strike as the group works to negotiate a new employment contract.
The group’s old contract expired in December 2012.
The vote to authorize a strike happened on Saturday and now means that workers can strike at anytime going forward in the negotiations.
According to Tyler French with the SEIU, employers are asking workers to cut hours and freeze wages. French also says that cutting hours means many of the workers would no longer qualify for health insurance.
Dwayne Paige is among the janitors who voted to authorize a strike. Paige says he worries about paying for his 16-year-old’s college education in a few years as well as what losing health insurance would mean.
“Health care is definitely a top issue. Cause I’m a diabetic. And I got to have my health care. If I don’t go see the doctor once a month and get my meds I could pretty much die,” Paige said.
NBC4 was unable to reach the workers’ employers for comment. However, many employers say they need to freeze wages in the current economy in order to survive while their own costs go up.
Local 1’s negotiations are currently on hold until early August.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the first time, Columbus janitors have told their union that they’re ready to strike, if need be.
They held an emergency meeting on Saturday and voted to authorize a strike.
A spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union said cleaning companies are trying to reduce the janitors’ wages and take away health care benefits.
Janitors and representatives for cleaning contractors are scheduled to meet again on Monday, August 5.
Union representatives will decide then whether to take the deal, or to strike.
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