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Janitors' union recruits council support on contract talks

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The first janitors’ union contract in the city will expire soon, and union organizers are looking to the Indianapolis City-County Council to give them a boost in the negotiations.

Council President Maggie Lewis, a Democrat, will introduce a general resolution in support of the janitors Monday night.

Heading into talks with seven cleaning-service companies working in major downtown office buildings, Service Employees International Union Local 1, based in Chicago, is trying to call attention to economic disparities between the janitors, who earn $8.80 per hour, and the corporations that occupy the office space.

“It would encourage the building owners and the contractors to invest in the city,” SEIU spokesman Ivan Moreno said of the council resolution.

The contract, which expires at the end of July, covers about 750 janitors working in some of the largest buildings downtown, including Eli Lilly and Co.’s headquarters, the Chase Tower, One America tower and Capital Center, Moreno said.

SEIU staged protests in front of downtown office buildings in the years leading up to its 2008 contract, its first and only contract in Indianapolis. Since then, Indiana has become a right-to-work state, which means people covered by union contracts can’t be required to pay dues.

The right-to-work law might not affect negotiations, but it could undercut support for the union over time.

“We’re going to negotiate as if the law wasn’t there,” Moreno said. “We haven’t had any company refusing to negotiate.”

The contract is with seven cleaning firms: MMMM, based in St. Louis; ABM Industries, based in San Francisco; Group Services France, based in Paris; Servico Building Maintenance Co. of Glen Ellen, Calif.; Aetna Building Maintenance of Columbus, Ohio; Platinum Cleaning of California; and ISS Facility Services Inc. of San Antonio, Texas.

The contract started out covering five cleaning-service providers but expanded over the four years, Moreno said. Janitors under the contract have seen their wages rise from an average of $6.70 per hour in 2008. They also receive paid vacation and health insurance, he said.

David Bego, founder of Indianapolis-based Executive Management Services Inc., did not join the SEIU contract, and refused to sign a neutrality agreement for non-union contractors in which they agree to eliminate secret ballots in future elections and give the union employees' home addresses. 

Bego thinks SEIU faces a tough negotiation since Indiana passed right-to-work legislation.

“I think they’ve got a hard time renegotiating, keeping people in,” he said.

Bego added that his company has offered health and vacation benefits since the mid-1990s, and his starting pay ranges from $8.50 per hour to $9 per hour, depending on the building.

SEIU protested the owner of 101 W. Ohio St. in 2008 after it replaced a union contractor with Bego's firm.

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  • these positions
    tha majority of the postions that are part time supplement income jobs. They are not meant to make a living on only to support your own needs. You will never make a great living as a janitor and it shouldnt be a career stp to slean the Eli Lilly offices.
  • Poverty level?
    I think it would be hard to be excited about being a janitor regardless of the pay scale. I have higher aspirartions for myself. The task is menial and tedious but the skills required are pretty minimal so why should they be paid more as a group? Why shouldn't the market set the wage? Poverty level in the US is like living the dream in 75% of other countries around the world. We have our poverty level set way to high realistically.
    • Wages
      This is a tough business. I think it would be hard to be excited about $6.7, $8.5 or $9.00 all are below poverty level if you have a family.

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