By TIM ROWDEN
St. Louis – SEIU Local 1 janitors in Santa hats, joined by Missouri State Senator Karla May, the St. Louis County NAACP and faith and community allies, sang carols throughout downtown St. Louis Dec. 18 to highlight how they’re struggling to support their families this holiday season.
While the average American is expected to spend $846 on gifts this year, the janitors who clean notable buildings like Wells Fargo, Peabody Plaza and Metropolitan Square, are struggling to put food on the table, much less buy gifts for their loved ones, on a median wage of $10.75 an hour.
While handing out small toys to children marching, the janitors also delivered lumps of coal to Scrooge employers.
Maureen Simms, one of 2,100 St. Louis area janitors locked in negotiations for a new contract, says $15 an hour is what she needs to make ends meet.
“Fifteen dollars an hour in a strong new contract would put a big smile on my grandchildren’s faces,” said Simms, who cleans the Wells Fargo Building. “Fifteen dollars is what I need to put food on the table, clothes on their backs, shoes on their feet and maybe even some presents under the tree. It’s ridiculous that we’re cleaning these prestigious buildings but struggling to make ends meet.”
FIGHTING FOR ONE ST. LOUIS
Janitors and their allies are fighting for One St. Louis – a region where every working family – black, white or brown – can support themselves. Carrying candy canes, handing out toys to children and delivering Christmas cards to prominent buildings, janitors used the lighthearted but serious event to demonstrate the importance of a $15 wage for working families.
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 janitors and many other low-wage workers are still struggling.
‘I’M STILL STRUGGLING’
Eugene Hubbard, 70, has been a janitor for 20 years.
“I make $12.30 an hour, which isn’t enough to get by, so I work as a part-time caretaker too. That’s 60 hours a week and I’m still struggling to pay my rent, pay for gas, pay for my utilities, and I rely on public housing. My fight is for $15 because that’s what we need to support our families, ourselves and our communities.
“If everyone in my community made $15 with good union jobs we could spend more money in our neighborhoods and grow businesses and make it better for everyone. I wouldn’t have to struggle so much, and I’d get to spend more time with my grandkids.”
BUSINESSES ON THE ‘NAUGHTY LIST’ GET LUMPS OF COAL
“The St. Louis County Council and St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed resolutions supporting our fight, but our bosses refused to listen,” Hubbard said.
“And this year they’re on the Naughty List. That’s why we’re out here today caroling, giving toys to our kids and dropping off lumps of coal (to Scrooge employers) because we need $15 this holiday season. A $15 wage and a good new contract would make Christmas a little more cheerful for me and my grandkids. It would mean presents under the tree instead of just barely making rent.”
While many people were out last week buying gifts for their loved ones for the holidays, janitors are struggling just to support their families, said Larry Taylor, a janitor at Express Scripts who is on the committee seeking a new contract.
“Too many janitors are working two or three or more jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “That’s not right.”
‘LEAD BY EXAMPLE’
Sen. May (D-St. Louis), a 20-year member of Communications Workers (CWA) Local 6300, challenged business owners to pay their employees a living wage.
“The cost of living in Missouri is estimated at about $2,240 for a single person. If we’re talking about a family of four, we’re talking about $4,600 a month. Why are we allowing these companies not to pay $15 an hour?” May asked.
“I’m standing with the Service Employees International Union today to ask these companies to go on record, for somebody to lead by example and raise the wage to $15 an hour,” May said. “This is the season of giving. If you want to change the paradigm in the state of Missouri and be a first-class company, you should raise the wage to $15 and hour and quit playing.”
‘ALL WE’RE ASKING IS TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT’
John Bowman, president of the St. Louis County NAACP, noted the $15 an hour janitors are asking for is not that much compared the amount of money the businesses they work for are making.
“That’s not asking for a lot, Bowman said. “These employers are making $32,000 an hour. All we’re asking for is for the hard-working people of this state and of this country to be treated with respect. $15 an hour is not asking for a lot. We are the backbone of this country.
Who’s going to buy these products Who does these services? Who’s in these grocery stores? It’s the everyday people. We want to $15 and we’re not going to accept anything less than that. The NAACP of St. Louis County firmly stands with SEIU.”