McDonald’s restaurant crew member Dwight Murray has worked four years for the fast-food giant, pulls downs $8 an hour and also relies on food stamps to help support himself and a daughter.
The 27-year-old said he needs food stamps because his barely above-minimum wage doesn’t stretch far enough, even when he works a full 40-hour week.
“There’s no money left for groceries,” Murray says.
Which is why Murray decided to march Tuesday in front of the McDonald’s at 16th and Meridian streets in Indianapolis as part of a union-organized protest in 20 cities of the low wages that are common in the fast-food industry.
“We can’t afford to support ourselves and our families,” said Murray, who marched outside the restaurant over the lunch hour in his black McDonald’s uniform shirt. “To me, if we work here, why do we have to depend on Social Security and food stamps?”
The rally by the Fight for 15 campaign, which has support from the Service Employees International Union and Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, cites a new study by the University of California-Berkeley that found 52 percent of line workers at fast-food restaurants must rely on food stamps or other forms of public assistance to support their families.
The total taxpayer tab for welfare for fast-food workers: nearly $7 billion a year, according to the study. About $1.2 billion of assistance goes to McDonald’s workers alone, the study says.
It was that whopping tax-supported assistance that prompted Fran Quigley, a law professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, to hang a placard in Spanish around his neck saying “Huelga Por 15” and join the 17-person rally.
“I am tired of subsidizing the McDonald’s poverty-level wages,” Quigley said. “The cheap food we enjoy comes at a cost to us — in public assistance.”
In a statement Tuesday, McDonald’s said its wages “are based on local wage laws and are competitive to similar jobs in that market. We also provide training and professional development opportunities to anyone that works in one of our restaurants.”
Rally organizers want the Indiana legislature to increase the state’s $7.25 minimum wage, said Nancy Guyott, president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO, who briefly marched in the rally.
Big fast-food franchises “have the means to do that (raise wages) but instead they are shifting the cost to the taxpayers,” she said. “This is a societal problem we need to fix.”
Bill Church, a Carmel restaurant franchise consultant who also is president of the Mr. Dan’s hamburger chain in Indianapolis, said fast-food operators operate on thin profit margins and raising wages is “not feasible” for most. “You just can’t make dollars out of thin air to pay people (more),” he said.
And low wages are hardly confined to the fast-food industry, Church said. “Movie theaters and car washes. There are a lot of other industries as well … in that same pay scale.”
Rally organizers said they aren’t asking the public to boycott McDonald’s or other fast-food franchises over the wages they pay.
Earlier this week, in a dimly lit, overcrowded room in the basement of Jordan Hall on Butler University’s Northside campus, an event occurred with huge significance for the Indiana economy.
The economic leaders in that room were not business executives or politicians wearing suits and ties. They were cooks and cashiers and dishwashers, wearing black uniform shirts and pants along with chef hats and hairnets. For many, their clothes and their faces showed the effects of a long shift on their feet, cooking and serving meals and cleaning up afterward.
These Hoosiers are workers at Butler’s food-service operation, sub-contracted by the university to multi-national company Aramark. At their meeting this week, the workers approved their first contract, an agreement negotiated by their co-workers and their new union, UNITE HERE.
After eight months of negotiations — and some worker protests and displays of community and student support — the company and its
(Photo: Tom Spalding)
workers agreed to terms that included immediate raises and sustained wage increases over the life of the four-year contract. Starting salaries will be higher, health-care costs will drop, and the company agreed to match contributions to a 401(k) retirement plan. The contract also includes improved access to year-round employment, a critical issue for on-campus workers.
In reaching these terms, these Butler workers joined food service and campus operations workers at Marian University, who agreed to similar terms with Aramark last week. These new contracts mean that 500 service and hospitality workers, including workers at IUPUI and the Indianapolis International Airport, are now receiving higher wages and better benefits thanks to recent union contracts. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is working to earn similar contracts for our city’s janitors and security guards.
These developments are good news for all Hoosiers. For many of our neighbors, service-sector jobs are the only work available in our modern economy. These are sustainable jobs, an important feature in a state scarred by the exodus of high-paying manufacturing work. The tasks of washing dishes, cleaning hotel rooms and cooking meals are jobs that cannot be outsourced to a Bangladeshi sweatshop or to a call center overseas.
The workers at Butler, Marian and beyond are proving that such jobs have dignity, and do not have to be characterized by low pay and uncertain tenure. This week’s result is not an anomaly: Unionization of service-sector work has been shown to reliably and significantly increase workers’ wages and benefits.
In the early and mid-20th century, the union movement turned once low-paying manufacturing jobs into solid careers that allowed workers to buy homes and send their kids to college. Workers joining together can do the same for service-sector jobs today. Across Indianapolis, they have already started doing just that.
“What do we want?” “Justice!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
The chants of three dozen janitors and their supporters, accompanied by the boom of a large bass drum, echoed off the sides of the massive Chase Tower on Monument Circle during last Thursday afternoon’s rush hour.
The janitors are members of Service Employees International Union Local 1, and they were complaining about the wages paid by the contractor ABM. The multinational corporation employs the workers who clean the Chase Tower and several other office buildings downtown. The rally comes on the heels of recent janitors’ strikes in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. The janitors begin contract negotiations with the company in December.
“We and the other members of the contractors association are committed to reaching an agreement in the mutual best interest of all involved parties – employees, companies and customers alike,” said Chas Strong, spokesperson for ABM. “The current collective bargaining agreement, which was negotiated by the union, provides employees with wages and benefits – all according to the terms approved by the union and its membership. We look forward to the beginning of negotiations next month and will work hard at the bargaining table to achieve a successful resolution.”
According to the SEIU, the median salary for janitors in Indianapolis is less than $14,000 a year, and many of the workers are forced to rely on taxpayer-funded programs to meet basic needs such as healthcare, food, and housing.
Author Campbell has something to say to Indianapolis citizens who are concerned about poverty in our city: “Let’s make the jobs we have pay a wage that allows a family to afford the costs of living.”
Campbell works cleaning an Eli Lilly and Co. building, and he is a steward for SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1. The union represents a group of 700 local workers who clean the majority of downtown Indianapolis’ office space, including the offices for Eli Lilly, Simon Property Group and WellPoint.
Most of these janitors are paid around $9 per hour by contractors, and are usually given less than 30 hours a week of work. They have no retirement plan.
Campbell and other union leaders began negotiations with the contractors this week.
“We want janitors here to be able to support a family with their work,” Campbell says, pointing out that janitors in other cities often make several dollars per hour more than their counterparts in Indianapolis. “We want better wages and health care that is affordable.”
Some Indianapolis janitors have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Enriqueta Sanchez works one job during the day and at night cleans offices at the 300 North Meridian building, one of the city’s tallest buildings and home to some of the community’s most prestigious law and accounting firms.
Sanchez picks up garbage, mops floors and vacuums carpets until midnight. It is an exhausting double-shift routine, but she sees no other choice. With low wages, it takes two jobs to pay the bills.
After six years of working for GSF-USA cleaning office buildings, Sanchez makes $8.90 per hour. According to GSF-USA’s website, its parent company Group Services France employs more than 25,000 people worldwide. The company’s most recent reported revenue, for 2008, was more than $700 million. GSF did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment for this article.
Union members also argue that Indiana taxpayers are helping subsidize these cleaning companies by footing the bill for their employees’ health care. Sanchez’s grandchildren are on Medicaid, and Sanchez is among many janitors who use the Wishard-Eskenazi Health clinics or emergency room because they cannot afford the employer’s offered health insurance.
Campbell says the workers’ concerns are not just about the numbers on the paycheck. They want to be recognized for their work in a way that allows them to care for themselves and their loved ones, something he says every working person deserves. “Most of all, it is about self-dignity,” Campbell says.
Janitors Strike Metro Thursday October 31, 2013: 60 to 70 Local Janitors strike in front of One West Building October 31, 2013 in Downtown, Cincinnati. They are also striking in front of the PNC Building. Cincinnati janitors are striking because of intimidation and harassment from their employer they said. SEIU spokeswoman Leslie Mendoza Kamstra said the strike could be expanded. / The Cincinnati Enquirer
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.
Nearly 100 SEIU* Local 1 security officers and their supporters staged a rally and flash mob at the Thompson Center Wednesday to bring attention to their campaign for better wages and affordable health care. Presently, full time security officers can pay up to $1,543 a month for health insurance coverage for a family of four. In some cases, that could be more than 80 percent of an officer’s monthly income.
“We’re just asking for fair wages, health benefits and [that they] just treat us with integrity and respect,” said Kenyatta Sinclair, a security officer who has been on the job for five years. Sinclair, who makes $13.60 an hour, does not currently have health benefits.
“I would have to buy my own plan, and I don’t make enough to buy one,” Sinclair explained.
The workers rallying at the Thompson Center have been in negotiations with some of the largest security contractors in the nation, including Securitas and Allied Barton, said Ivan Moreno, a communications specialist for SEIU Local 1. Presently, representatives from SEIU’s bargaining committee are still trying to negotiate contract language before they move to the next phase of negotiations, which would be focused on a wage increase and health benefits.
Earlier this year, the union secured a three-year contract with the Building Owners and Manager’s Association, which included annual raises and kept family health insurance plans intact. During the negotiations, workers and their supporters staged multiple rallies and received support from the community and legislators, including Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly.
Wednesday’s demonstrators dressed in Halloween-themed costumes and broke into dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as a means to bring more attention to their campaign for a fair contract.
“This is more than just a contract. This is a revolution of a social movement that is happening,” said Erica Kimble, vice president and Security Division director.
“To get something different, we have to do something different. We have to come out, be unified and stand in solidarity with one another to show these contractors we mean business this year.”
After six bargaining sessions, the negotiations have been moving slowly, according to Kimble.
Here’s a look at the protest, flash mob dance and more from Kimble:
Contact: Ivan Moreno | email@example.com | 773.799.6455
After Finance Committee Unanimously Rejects Irresponsible Contractor CleanPower…
Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Supports Good Jobs and Votes to Reject CleanPower for $3.4 Million Cleaning Contract
Milwaukee, WI – Today, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted to reject CleanPower for a $3.4 million cleaning contract, a proposal that was unanimously rejected by the Board’s Finance Committee last week. CleanPower is a company with a history of paying poverty wages and a track record of bad business practices, including alleged discrimination, labor law violations and safety complaints. Rejecting CleanPower for this multi-million dollar public contract demonstrates responsible use of taxpayers’ dollars and ensures that Milwaukee County creates good jobs for our communities.
“Being offered only part-time hours and poverty wages, I’m constantly forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying bills,” said CleanPower janitor Connie Sullivan. “I am glad that the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors is supporting good jobs that will allow working families to build a better life by saying no to irresponsible companies like CleanPower that push working families into poverty.”
While more than three of every four Milwaukee schoolchildren need free or reduced lunch during the school day, Milwaukee County needs good, family-sustaining jobs that will move our city forward. CleanPower is contributing to the cycle of poverty providing part-time, poverty wage jobs, forcing its employees to rely on taxpayer funded benefits programs to meet their basic needs.
“I work hard every day, but being forced into part-time work with poverty wages I can’t provide my family with a decent quality of life. I’m always struggling for more hours but still I can’t make ends meet,” said Calvin Robinson, a CleanPower janitor. “I am glad that our County Supervisors are supporting good jobs that will allow working families to build a better life.”
With an annual income as low as $8,500, CleanPower’s janitors are eligible for Wisconsin’s food assistance programs, public health benefits, and housing assistance. In fact, according to the state of Wisconsin, more than 300 of CleanPower’s Wisconsin employees and more than 500 of their children already rely on public benefits to obtain health care.
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.
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.