Mar 1, 2024 - News

Cleveland janitors call for higher wages

A woman speaks at an outdoor rally, people holding a purple banner in the background

City of Cleveland janitor Sandra Ellington speaks yesterday. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 janitors and their labor allies rallied Thursday outside the offices of Downtown Cleveland Inc. (DCI) as they gear up for contract negotiations.

Why it matters: The master contract to be bargained will affect roughly 700 custodial workers who clean many of the highest-profile buildings downtown, plus commercial office space countywide, including Cleveland Cliffs steel mill and Cuyahoga Community College.

Between the lines: SEIU bargains directly with employers who occupy the buildings they clean.

  • They chose to demonstrate outside DCI to ensure that downtown developers and power brokers — many of whom sit on DCI's board — hear the message, Yanela Sims, SEIU Local 1's vice president and Ohio director, told Axios.

What they're saying: Multiple janitors emphasized that pay hasn't kept pace with the cost of living.

  • They're seeking higher wages — currently about $14 per hour — and better benefits, including retirement protections, in the new five-year contract.

Friction point: As when SEIU ratified its previous contract, the local union is seeking to juxtapose its membership — which is majority Black and majority female — with the handsomely subsidized properties they clean.

  • "The building I work in [Flats East Bank] is receiving tax breaks," said janitor Terry Eddy. "We aren't against development, but if downtown is getting all these subsidies, there is no reason we should have to live paycheck to paycheck."

What's next: The current contract expires April 30. Per SEIU, negotiations are scheduled to begin the last week of March.

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