SEIU Local 1 workers rally outside 22nd Judicial Court and City Hall to demand justice for janitors

CHALLENGE UNLIMITED JANITORS, SEIU Local 1 members, faith leaders and elected officials marched outside the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court in St. Louis and introduced a resolution outside City Hall that would hold Challenge Unlimited accountable for its treatment of disabled workers and unfair labor practices. – Labor Tribune photo

Janitors represented by Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1, elected officials and faith leaders rallied outside the 22nd Judicial Court building and marched to City Hall Oct. 27 to demand justice for janitors employed by irresponsible contractor Challenge Unlimited and issue a call for the City to terminate its contract.

A contractor chosen by the Courts, Challenge Unlimited wrongfully fired Marvin King, a worker with a documented disability, misled the City as to the cost of their services and is now facing an investigation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the City of St. Louis.

“I am a trained floor tech for Challenge Unlimited, responsible for stripping and waxing the floors at the Civil Courts in St. Louis,” said Martin Wilson. “My co-workers and I need a union – without it we are vulnerable in the workplace every day. We don’t get paid enough, we don’t have enough benefits, and workers with documented disabilities get treated lesser than their janitorial counterparts. This isn’t right.”

Duane Inge, an SEIU Local 1 janitor in Civil Courts building, came out to support the janitors employed in the 22nd Circuit Court.

“When workers have a livable wage, benefits and respect on the job, we have a reason to keep going,” Inge said. “We have a reason to be the best versions of ourselves.

“I’m out here to support the janitors employed by Challenge Unlimited because every single one of them deserve strong union jobs where protections are ensured and with wages that support them and their families”

Alderman Jimmy Lappe (11th Ward) joined in the rally along with Alderwoman Annie Rice (8th Ward) and Alderwoman Anne Schweitzer (13th Ward).

“I’m proud to stand with these workers,” said Lappe, a former member of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 655. “When I was working at the grocery store, I always had a union that had my back, and you folks deserve to have a union where you work, too. What Challenge Unlimited is doing is frankly, in my mind, unconscionable. Denying folks the right to organize and bargain collectively is messed up and wrong.”

Challenge Unlimited workers have been fighting for respect and protection on the job for months, said SEIU Local 1 Missouri Director Chris Rak.

“Challenge Unlimited operates as a federal AbilityOne Program at the courts, yet they have failed to provide any rehab or vocational services to workers with disabilities,” Rak said. “Additionally, their invoices to the City show inconsistencies that our community deserves answers to. Whether it is Challenge Unlimited, the courts or both, someone needs to be held accountable for the unjust actions against workers and St. Louis.”

Following the discoveries of Challenge Unlimited’s actions, Alderwoman Megan Green introduced a resolution supporting Challenge Unlimited workers and calling out Challenge Unlimited’s actions.

The resolution notes that Challenge Unlimited has invoked a state exemption to Missouri unemployment insurance to workers with disabilities, while providing those benefits to janitors in the 22nd Circuit Court who perform the same services but do not have disabilities. Green’s resolution calls on the city to consider Challenge Unlimited’s actions when selecting a responsible provider of janitorial services at the 22nd Circuit Court.

The resolution also calls on the Board of Alderman to support Challenge Unlimited workers’ efforts to organize a union to provide job protections and equality for all the hard-working janitors at the 22nd Circuit Court.

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