Janitor firms to negotiate; Islamic law cited


Several janitorial firms operating in the Indianapolis area have agreed to negotiate a contract with the Service Employees International Union, which has been holding protests and other events downtown for two years to try to force the talks.

Meanwhile, a clergy group that backs the union is taking its campaign against Indianapolis-based HDG Mansur Group to Islamic investors in the hope of persuading them to avoid investing in HDG Mansur until the Indianapolis company meets the clergy’s definition of treating the workers well.

HDG Mansur owns Market Tower, a downtown office tower that has been the site of frequent protests. The Indianapolis-based janitorial firm that cleans Market Tower, Executive Management Services Inc., is not taking part in the negotiations.

Rather, the company today planned to file with the National Labor Relations Board 33 charges of unfair labor practices against the union.

The flurry of activity is the latest in a two-year struggle between the union, janitorial firms and property owners.

The union and clergy group, Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice, say janitors in the city are underpaid. Largely due to pressure from union backers, janitorial firms in Cincinnati negotiated a five-year contract this summer that shifts wages to $9.80 an hour from the current $7.05; last week, peer companies in Columbus, Ohio, negotiated a contract that starts workers at $7.65 an hour and escalates wages to $10 an hour by 2012.

Indianapolis janitorial firms have consistently said they pay their employees a reasonable wage, considering the often part-time nature of the work and the competitive pressures under which they operate. Executive Management Services, for instance, pays full- and part-time workers a starting wage of $7.50, with full-time workers receiving vacation, paid holidays and health benefits.

However, the Rev. C.J. Hawking, a national organizer for Interfaith Worker Justice, said the wages are too little to live on.

Last week, she and Sheikh Abdool Kahn, an Islamic scholar with ties to the Islamic Center in Plainfield, traveled to London to attend a conference on Islamic investing.

Hawking said the trip was “extremely successful” in raising questions about HDG Mansur’s treatment of workers, but would not discuss details.

HDG Mansur said in June that it would start a global real estate company that complies with Shari’ah, or Islamic law. The company, Al-Umran Global Property Fund Limited, which was expected to raise $1.2 billion to $2 billion, will be listed primarily on the Dubai International Financial Exchange, the company said.

Hawking said, “Is it Shari’ah-compliant to have people in your home office suffering from deplorable working conditions while you are trying to attract Islamic investors who want to invest in Shiri’ah-compliant funds?”

HDG Mansur did not respond to requests for comment.

Executive Management Services said its NLRB filings will accuse the union of threatening and harassing workers who didn’t support union representation.

The company’s attorney, Dave Swider, said protesters outside Market Tower grabbed the arms of workers who attempted to arrive at the office tower for work. Union backers also have offered to pay the workers more than they make at Executive Management Services if they wouldn’t show up for work, Swider alleged.

“The union has gone from selling its services to employees to jamming those services down the employees’ throats through bullying, harassing and deceitful and unlawful tactics,” Swider said.

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