As poverty in our city rises, even as unemployment continues to drop…
Columbus janitors authorize strike in historic vote
COLUMBUS—On Saturday, July 20th, Columbus janitors held an emergency meeting and voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary. Following their meeting, janitors announced the outcome of their vote to media and community supporters. Janitors were joined by elected leaders, including State Representative Tracy Heard.
Columbus janitors, who clean the majority of the commercial office space downtown, and cleaning contractors returned to the bargaining table on Monday, July 15th. Full-time Columbus janitors are currently paid just over $18,000 a year—well below the poverty level for a family. By contrast, the CEOs of Columbus’s Fortune 1000 companies took home more than $133 million in 2012.
Cleaning companies are still threatening to freeze wages for at least 2 years and to slash janitors’ hours. This would have a devastating effect on hundreds of working families in Columbus as janitors would not only lose access to health care, but up to half their income.
For months now, janitors and their supporters have been calling on local corporations to support a fair contract and to create good, family-sustaining jobs in Columbus, where the concentrated poverty rate has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. While business booms and the unemployment rate in Columbus continues to drop, the number of working people in our city living in poverty is rising, as is reliance on public assistance programs like food stamps. This is because fewer and fewer jobs in Columbus pay a living wage. In fact, a majority of Ohioans make less today than they did in 1979. Of the 10 largest occupations in Ohio, 8 do not pay enough for an adult and a child to survive without welfare.
“We’re fighting for good jobs for ourselves and for the next generation,” says Dwayne Paige, a Columbus janitor and father. “I want my daughter to have a better future, and that’s not going to happen if wages for working people stay the same while everything else goes up.”
Today’s “yes” vote means that the janitors’ bargaining committee can call a strike if and when it becomes necessary. Janitors and representatives for cleaning contractors are scheduled to meet again on Monday, August 5th.
***Advisory for Saturday, July 20th, 2013***
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Columbus janitors to take vote to authorize strike
Janitors will announce the outcome of vote following emergency meeting on Saturday
COLUMBUS—On Saturday, July 20th, Columbus janitors will hold an emergency meeting where they will vote to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary. Following their meeting, janitors will announce the outcome of their vote to media and community supporters. Janitors will be joined by elected leaders, including Tracy Maxwell Heard the Ohio House Democratic Leader, as well as faith and community leaders.
Janitors and cleaning contractors returned to the bargaining table on Monday, July 15th. Unfortunately, cleaning contractors are still threatening to freeze wages for at least 2 years and to slash janitors’ hours. This would have a devastating effect on hundreds of working families in Columbus as janitors would not only lose access to health care, but up to half their income.
For months now, janitors and their supporters have been calling on local corporations to support a fair contract and to create good, family-sustaining jobs in Columbus, where poverty is rising and reliance on public assistance is skyrocketing, even as the unemployment rate continues to drop. A “yes” vote on Saturday will mean that the janitors’ bargaining committee can call a strike if and when it becomes necessary. Janitors and representatives for the cleaning contractors are scheduled to meet again on Monday, August 5th.
What: Janitors to announce outcome of strike vote
Where: Outside the AFL-CIO building, 395 E Broad St, Columbus
When: 3:50 PM Saturday, July 20th
Who: About 75 janitors and supporters; faith and community leaders, including Mohamud Jama of the Somali Education and Resource Center; and elected officials including Tracy Maxwell Heard, the Ohio House Democratic Leader
Visuals: Dozens of janitors and supporters holding handmade signs and posters and waving the flags of their various home countries
At the June 1st, 2013 membership meeting, Local 1 members from 11 cities and 6 states overwhelmingly approved constitutional and bylaw amendments by a 94% vote. The final vote tally was 366 in favor of the amendments and 22 against.
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In January, a janitor in Cincinnati received a piece of chilling news from one of her superiors, who had just met with upper management. The company, the supervisor said, was considering cutting some full-time employee hours down below 30 per week in order to avoid paying for new healthcare costs associated with Obamacare.
The janitor, who asked to be called Jennifer for fear of retaliation from management, is well into her 40s and now worries for her livelihood.
After over six years of working for ABM Industries, a company worth $4bn, she works full-time for $9.80 an hour. She says that with so many bills, including several monthly prescriptions, she often finds herself so short on money that she cannot eat satisfactorily. “I want to – I need to – work full-time” Jennifer said. She is a member of the local Service Employees International Union, which has struggled to bargain with ABM for better wages and steady hours.
“Every penny counts for me,” Jennifer said. “I’m working full-time and I’m still struggling to make ends meet. If I got cut down to 20 or 25 hours … oh my God, I would have no money to live on. I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills; I’d hardly afford to eat or pay for my medication. I’d be forced to look for another job.”
“It’s not like mom’s still here – I can’t go stay with mom any more,” Jennifer added.
Her story is not unusual. Three years after the passage of Barack Obama‘s signature healthcare law, labor advocates are warning that it could have the unforeseen consequence of harming some of the very low-wage employees it seeks to aid. The legislation’s incentive scheme, they say, could cause a shift toward part-time work that extends beyond companies like Papa John’s and Darden Restaurants, which last year publicized their plans to cut employee hours to avoid costs under the new law.
Such worries are reflected in California, where the state union federation is exploring legislation to lay over the Affordable Care Act to fix the potential problem. “We’re extremely concerned about the structure of employer responsibility penalties under this law” says Sara Flocks, Public Policy Coordinator for the California Labor Federation, which represents over 1,200 trade unions with 2.1 million members. “It encourages a shift toward a part time workforce in industries where that’s possible. In retail, entertainment, restaurants, and hotels, we’ll see a move toward cutting workers below the 30-hour mark.”
Most at risk of this, according to Flocks, is the so-called contingent workforce: those employees with already fluctuating hours, no job security, and little power to bargain with management. These are the workers whose hours can most easily be slashed by employers seeking to avoid paying health insurance.
Under the law that takes effect next year, large employers are exempted from contributing anything towards healthcare costs of employees who work under 30 hours a week. For full-time workers, companies must offer affordable insurance or face steep fines. Employers seeking to dodge this responsibility could impose 29-hour ceiling on workers, Flocks says, and push many onto public insurance subsidies, straining state and federal budgets.
The California Labor Federation has been quietly exploring strategies to stop this potential unintended consequence by reinforcing the ACA with state legislation to discourage large employers from cutting hours. The details of this proposal are undecided, but, at least in theory, a state law acting alongside the ACA could ensure that an employer’s part-time workers are counted toward determining how much a company must contribute to overall healthcare costs. This could eliminate the incentive to skirt the law by cutting hours.
“We want to be very clear that, overall, this law is a very good thing for working people, but we clearly need a fix on the 30-hour-a-week issue,” says Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a non-union labor group that represents 10,000 restaurant workers nationwide. The restaurant industry has one of the highest concentrations of workers most likely to have hours cut under the ACA’s 30-hour provision, according to a recent study UC Berkeley.
“We are very supportive of the effort in California. Once we see it in action, we can begin replicating it other states around the country,” said Jayaraman. “We need to make sure that all employers are taking responsibility.”
Republican opposition in Congress makes the path of state rather than federal legislation more appealing. Because many of Obama’s opponents would like to see the healthcare law falter, even practical fixes on the national level would likely fail in the House of Representatives. Apart from legislation, the California Labor Federation hopes to create a database of hour-cutting employers to inform policy makers on whatever trend emerges and who is responsible. Jayaraman says that finding and shaming employer who cut hours will be key in addressing the problem.
“The provision was not thought out all too well,” says Elise Gould, the director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal thinktank. “It creates a cliff, and we never like to see cliffs in policy.”
Yet Gould does not expect the law to cause a wholesale shift toward part-time. She points to the fact that, because most large employers already offer health coverage to full-time employees, the incentive to cut hours already widely exists. Also, Massachusetts’ own state employer-based healthcare reform enacted in 2006 did not prompt any massive shift to part-time work.
There are some key differences, though, between Massachusetts law and the ACA, says Ed Lenz, senior counsel at the American Staffing Association, a business association of staffing firms. Unlike the ACA, the Massachusetts law enacted by former Governor Romney counts part-time workers toward the size of penalty non-compliant employers must pay, thereby giving more weight to the number of part-timers at large companies under the state law.
Massachusetts also has the second highest per-capita income of any state in America, indicating a workforce with unusually strong job security.
Lenz doesn’t expect a huge shift among temporary staffing firms toward part time work under the ACA, as many staffing agencies’ clients prefer full-time workers.
In Cincinnati, however, the union that represents Jennifer and about 1,000 other janitors is fighting for its members’ hours. ABM has said it may need to cut hours in preparation for the ACA, according to the local SEIU. At the bargaining table in Cincinnati, an association of cleaning companies – including Jancoa Janitorial Services and Scioto Services – represents ABM.
“These contractors have told us repeatedly that they need the flexibility to avoid the guarantees of full-time work that their employees have fought hard to achieve when the ACA goes into effect,” said Laurie Couch, a spokesperson for the union.
In July, the CEO of Jancoa, Mary Miller, said that the ACA would “almost force us to go to part-time employees to reduce the cost that our customers and us cannot afford.” This statement was part of a video released on YouTube by the US Chamber of Commerce.
Jancoa and ABM declined to comment for this article.
“We see the ACA as a three-legged stool made of the individual mandate, employer responsibility, and government subsidies,” said Flocks.
“And all of us are in, except these employers which are skirting their responsibilities. If you cut one leg of the stool it’s going to crash. This is about fair share, but it’s also about the sustainability of the ACA.”
Janitors in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio clean the headquarters of some of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the country. Columbus and Cincinnati janitors are now fighting for a new union contract to win fair wages and good jobs—not just for themselves, but for our communities.
As Columbus celebrated the life of civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday, janitors held a short rally in front of the Huntington building at Broad and High Streets to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy of advocacy for low-wage workers.
The janitors marched with community and faith leaders, carrying signs saying “I am a man” and “I am a woman,” recalling the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, when Dr. King called for fair pay, safe working conditions, and the right for black sanitation workers to unionize.
“In 1968, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ as a vehicle to fight for economic and racial justice,” said Laurie Couch of SEIU Local 1. “Then, as now, the vast majority of workers consigned to poverty-wage jobs were people of color.”
While the overall poverty rate for the Columbus area is 15.7%, the rates are significantly higher for Latinos (27.2%) and African Americans (32.1%), Couch said.
“I’m a single father of a seven-year old boy,” said Bobby Copley, a janitor who works at the Huntington building. “I’m doing it all on my own. Ten dollars an hour just isn’t cutting it.”
Copley has worked for the cleaning contractor Professional Maintenance for two years, but has not been able to get full-time hours, and therefore is not eligible for health coverage. “We all get sick, and we all need health care,” he said. “We need to stick together and fight this fight, like Martin Luther King did.”
Dwayne Paige works full-time as a janitor at the Franklin County Courthouse, but still struggles to support his wife and 16-year-old daughter. “She’s smart and curious, and she works so hard,” Paige said of his daughter. “I would do anything for her. But I worry we’ll never be able to afford to send her to college.”
The janitors have been working without a contract since December 1. The main issues in contract negotiations are wages and health coverage. According to the SEIU, the average janitor in Columbus is paid less than $18,200 a year. The 2012 federal poverty line for a family of four was $23,050.
Collective bargaining between the janitors and their employers is scheduled to resume on January 29.
January 11, 2013 | By Steve Palm-Houser
On Wednesday, about 50 janitors gathered at the Greater Columbus Convention Center and marched through the center of downtown to gather support for contract negotiations with their employers.
Contract negotiations had stalled on Tuesday, when cleaning contractors that employ janitors for Fortune 500 companies called for a three-year wage freeze, and asked janitors to pay more for health care coverage. The janitors have been working without a contract since December 1.
The rally’s first stop was at Nationwide Plaza. “We want Nationwide to support the janitors in their effort for a new contract,” said Liliana Castillo, Columbus organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1. “Nationwide employs a lot of the cleaning companies that are at the table with us. We’re asking them to urge these cleaning companies to come to an agreement with us.
“We’re not asking for a lot,” Castillo said. “We’re asking to have health insurance. We’re asking to have full-time hours to support our families. We’re asking for modest raises that will be just enough to get us by. We’re asking for the basics.”
The janitors marched to Huntington Square, gathering more supporters on the way. A small delegation went inside to speak with the building owners while the rally continued outside.
“It’s a struggle to make ends meet for my family,” said Dwayne Paige, who is employed by the cleaning contractor Scioto Services. “I want to be able to save so my children can go to college.”
“With what we make now, it’s hard to get by,” said Ryan Ream, who works in Nationwide Plaza One. “It really is living week to week. If my car were to break down, I’d have to take out a payday loan.” Ream is also a full-time student at Ohio State.
The janitors will go back to the bargaining table with their employers on January 29 and 30.
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As negotiations between janitors and cleaning companies draw to a close…
City Council members support janitors, call on Cincinnati businesses to stop passing their bills onto taxpayers
CINCINNATI| Janitors and City Councilors Cecil Thomas and P.G. Sittenfeld held a press conference today on the steps of City Hall to call on Cincinnati businesses to stand up for good jobs and do their part to alleviate rising poverty in Cincinnati. Yesterday was the last scheduled day of contract negotiations between janitors and cleaning contractors and the two parties have yet to come to an agreement.
One cleaning contractor, Compass, has stepped up and agreed to pay janitors a living wage, protect full time hours, and preserve access to affordable health care. Compass is employed by Proctor and Gamble at P&G’s downtown headquarters. Councilmembers Sittenfeld and Thomas organized the press conference to praise P&G for their leadership and to call on other Cincinnati building owners to support good jobs for janitors.
“As members of City Council, we believe that working people should have a decent wage that allows them to support their families,” said Thomas. “And whether you’re cleaning floors or you’re a CEO, you deserve to be treated with respect.”
Janitors and their allies hope that contract negotiations can be brought to a close soon with an agreement that supports good jobs for Cincinnati’s working families. Currently, Cincinnati’s poverty rate is a whopping 30.6% and rising. 48% of Cincinnati children live in poverty. Cleaning contractors are exacerbating these problems by paying low wages and asking taxpayers to foot the bill. Many Cincinnati janitors are forced to rely on public assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid.
“As a janitor and a mother, I can tell you that my coworkers and I aren’t asking for a lot,” said Dina Smith, a janitor who cleans the Scripps building. “We just want to be able to raise our families in safety and without having to rely on public assistance.”
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