By TIM ROWDEN
Contract negotiations affecting more than 2,100 North St. Louis City and North County janitors represented by Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 began last week.
Janitors and their allies rallied outside the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis Oct. 23 marching with mops and brooms to kick off their fight for One St. Louis – a region where all working families – janitors, fast food workers, graduate workers, healthcare workers and others – can make ends meet with a $15 wage and good union jobs.
Five years after the Ferguson protests and Gov. Jay Nixon’s Ferguson Commission, which recommended the state raise the minimum wage to $15 to address racial and economic inequality, major employers and institutions, like Washington University, BJC HealthCare, Target and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones’ office, have announced plans to raise wages to $15 for employees. But for janitors and many other low-wage workers, little has changed.
“I’m 70 years old, but can’t afford to retire,” said Eugene Hubbard. “As long as I’m in good health, I have to keep working.”
Hubbard has worked as a janitor for 20 years. He makes $12.30 an hour with his current employer and works another 25 hours a week as a health caretaker. “That’s 60 hours a week and I’m still struggling to pay my rent, pay for gas, my utilities, and I’m dependent on public housing,” Hubbard said.
A recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that the average hourly wage to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment in St. Louis is $15.69, based on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s estimated Fair Market Rent, and the idea that a family or individual should not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.
The median wage for St. Louis area janitors is $10.75, leaving them struggling to put food on the table for their families.
“We’re coming together to demand civic, business and elected leaders work to raise wages across our region to $15 an hour, like the Ferguson Commission urged them to do,” said St. Louis County NAACP President John Bowman. “The fight for One St. Louis starts, but does not end, with the 2,100 janitors who kick off negotiations next week for a $15 wage and a strong new contract.”
Janitors were joined at the Oct. 23 rally by St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White, St. Louis County NAACP President John Bowman, Senator Brian Williams (SD14), Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis), Rep. Wylie Price IV (D-St. Louis), Rep. Peter Merideth (D-Tower Grove East), St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green, Ferguson Commission member and Democratic candidate for the 78th House District Rasheen Aldridge, Washington University Graduate Workers, Show Me $15 fast food workers.
“I stand here as the son of a union City fire fighter and a grocery clerk,” White said. “I grew up not too far from here, and we were taught to respect the janitor as much as we respect the CEO. I also come representing over 85,000 union members throughout the St. Louis area… construction workers, fire fighters, grocery clerks and everything else, and we all say that a rising tide raises all boats. And we know that that starts with the lowest of the low-paid, which is a crime, especially here in the City of St. Louis.
“I can tell you right now, what we want is what you want, and we will be with you. We’ll be behind you 100 percent. We’ll be out on the streets with you. We’ll have construction workers, grocery clerks, teachers, firemen and everything else out here because we are Union Strong and We Are One.”