How Christmas was stolen from Bessie Hervey and eleven other Downtown Milwaukee janitors
MILWAUKEE – Bessie Hervey had cleaned the 875 E. Wisconsin Ave. building since it opened in 2002. On December 1, just in time for Christmas, she and her 11 co-workers were replaced by cleaners paid poverty wages and no health benefits.
Bessie and her coworkers are union janitors, represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – Local 1. The new cleaners hired by the property owner, Wangard Partners, are nonunion workers paid less than $8.00 an hour. A union janitor makes $11 an hour.
“We were promised that the new company would offer jobs to the janitors,” Bessie said, describing the typical process when building management changes janitorial companies. Neither Wangard nor the new cleaning company followed through on this promise.
Hervey was one of several janitors, employed by Regency Janitorial Services, who had cleaned the building since it opened. She has never missed a day of work, never being written up, and she has been cleaning major office buildings in Downtown Milwaukee for nearly 20 years.
Bessie was part of the long fight to lift wages for janitors and other downtown workers from $4.25 per hour with no health insurance to the current $11 an hour with union health insurance. Now that she is not working, Bessie will lose the union health insurance.
“For the past 20 years janitors fought hard to make a measly $11 an hour, and now Wangard wants to take us back to where we were,” said Pete Hanrahan, vice president of Hervey’s union, SEIU Local 1. “Wangard is picking janitors’ pockets to line his wallet,” Hanrahan said.
SEIU Local 1 represents over 1,000 janitors and other workers in Downtown Milwaukee, including the vast majority of major office buildings, Marquette janitors and food service workers, and Miller Park ushers and grounds crew.
“This isn’t just about me and my job,” Bessie said. “This is about all of us who work hard downtown — US Bank building, Chase Bank, Grand Ave. — and have fought for years to get what little we’ve got. If they can take my job, they can take everybody’s job, and it will be like a domino effect.
“We have to fight now to protect all of our jobs.”
The new owner of the building gave the cleaning contract to a non-union cleaning company. The majority of the SEIU Local 1 janitors who work there will not be retained. These members have fought hard for their wages and benefits and need good jobs to provide for their families.
Wangard recently replaced Regency Janitorial Services, a unionized janitorial firm, with a non-unionized firm. The union janitors at the building were paid $11 per hour with a modest health insurance package, according to the SEIU.
“For the past 20 years janitors fought hard to make a measly $11 an hour, and now Wangard wants to take us back to where we were,” said Pete Hanrahan, vice president of SEIU Local 1. “Wangard is picking janitors’ pockets to line his wallet.”
“We respect the role of labor unions, and we regularly use union contractors on many of the projects in which we are involved,” said Daniel Crow of Wangard Partners, the manager of the 875 E. Wisconsin Ave. building. “However, in this case, based on a review of the building regarding maintenance, we decided to seek competitive bids from both union and non-union firms for the work. Several companies responded, and we selected an organization that will help raise the quality of the maintenance work at the building. The decision on the company selected was based on merit and the ability to meet the high standards and sustainability practices we set for the care and attention we provide to our tenants.”
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