They may take out the trash, but they do not want to be treated like it.
That is why Service Employees International Union Local 1 (SEIU) janitors voted Monday for a possible industry-wide strike in front of the One Campus Martius Building in downtown Detroit. Dozens of city workers who are employed at buildings across downtown gathered with prominent clergy members and elected officials to make this announcement, which could affect 1,700 janitors. If negotiations for a $15 hourly wage in a three-year contract and better benefits stall by the July 31 deadline, the workers plan to picket starting August 1.
“I am now fighting for a contract on behalf of almost 1,800 janitors in Detroit,” said Pam Moore, janitor and SEIU Executive Board Member. “Our contract expires on July 31 and we will fight until we get the wages and the health care we deserve. That is why, as we enter our final week of negotiations, Local 1 janitors vote overwhelmingly to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary. If we don’t have a good agreement by July 31, we will go on strike the next day. We are ready to do whatever it takes to live a better life.”
Currently, janitors who keep downtown Detroit buildings, like the Renaissance Center, One Campus Martius, Chrysler House and others clean and safe are struggling to raise their families on hourly wages as low as $9.45. Median annual earnings for janitors are so low that many rely on public assistance just to make ends meet. While downtown is booming again, janitors are fighting for at least a $15 wage in a three-year contract to ensure they can support their families.
“At the end of the day, we all know that this city only thrives on the backs of the people of the city who provide us with a clean environment,” said Detroit City Councilwoman Janee Ayers to the dozens of janitors in attendance. “It is your hard work that is turning this city around. You live in these communities and you deserve to get a wage that is comfortable to what you need. I stand with you”
In June, Local 1 kicked off their campaign for a strong new contract and for One Detroit, a city in which all working people can experience the benefits of Detroit’s redevelopment. While the fight for One Detroit starts with higher wages for hardworking janitors, it also includes $15 and union rights for security officers, arena workers, airport workers and more.
Among the dignitaries at the gathering Monday were Rev. Dr. Tellis Chapman of Galilee Baptist Church, community activist Rev. Horace Sheffield, gubernatorial candidates Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed, State Rep. Stephanie Chang, and many others.
“We cannot continue to allow everyday Detroiters to go unnoticed, unnamed and undercompensated while our leaders give millions of dollars to billionaires and allow them to only focus on their profits and not our people,” said Chapman, who spoke to the crowd. “If we are ever going to be One Detroit, everyone has to realize that the cost of living has increased for janitors too and agree that janitors should be able to earn enough to keep up. We simply can’t allow them to be squeezed out of Detroit’s comeback.”