Strike averted: Detroit janitors see $15 per hour demand met

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click to enlarge SEIU Local 1 janitor Kris Sherman-Burns cleans Little Caesar's Arena. - Twitter, @SEUIlocal1
Twitter, @SEUIlocal1
SEIU Local 1 janitor Kris Sherman-Burns cleans Little Caesar's Arena.

Janitors who clean Detroit’s schools and downtown skyscrapers will remain on the job after ratifying a new contract that gives them all a path to at least a $15 per hour wage.

The Service Employees International Union janitors last week threatened an industry-wide strike if that demand was not met. Under the previous contract that expired today, some of the 1,700 Detroit janitors in the union's Local 1 branch were making as little as $9.45 per hour and relying on public assistance to make ends meet.

Under the new four-year agreement, the janitors will make at least $15 per hour in year three.

“This new contract means a better future for myself, my children and my community,” Detroit Metro Airport janitor Jasmine Hall says in a statement. “But our fight for One Detroit isn’t over — we won’t stop until security officers, airport workers, arena workers, fast food workers and more can support their families with a $15 wage and good union jobs.”

The "One Detroit" campaign to boost the janitors' wages highlighted a growing income gap exacerbated by the city's resurgence. Tuesday's contract agreement was hailed by union officials as a the first win in the movement to build "a city in which all working people can enjoy the benefits of downtown Detroit’s resurgence."

"It's so sad that our janitors work in [these] buildings and downtown is booming — and they did build downtown up, which is a good thing — but you left us behind," Pamela Owens-Moore, a longtime janitor at the Millender Center, told Metro Times the evening the strike threat was announced.

About 1,7000 Detroit janitors belong to the SEUI's Local 1 branch. Most of them work in buildings throughout downtown, including the Renaissance Center, Chrysler House, and One Campus Martius. About 500 work in the Detroit Public School District and 250 work at Detroit Metro Airport. Most of the janitors are employed by ABM Janitorial Services of New York City, GDI Omni of Southfield, and Professional Building Maintenance/Preferred Building Services (PBS/PBM) of Southfield.

Detroit City Council championed the janitors' cause last month with a unanimous resolution urging the janitors' employers to meet the $15 per hour demand.

“In the last five years alone, the Detroit City Council and Wayne County Commission have approved more than $1 billion in tax incentives in and around downtown Detroit,” Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield said in a statement Tuesday. “This contract and the campaign that led to it have sent a strong signal that as much as Detroiters celebrate downtown's revitalization, we recognize that it is meaningless if working families aren't experiencing the district's economic boom."

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