Janitors' Victory Brings Hope to Columbus Families, Creates New Model for Ensuring Good Jobs with Health Care for Region's Low-wage Workers

Historic city-wide contract for nearly 1,200 janitors will double the income of many of lowest-paid in Columbus area, pave way for other service workers to win improvements

Columbus — On the heels of recent high-profile contract victories that made dramatic gains for thousands of working families in Cincinnati and Houston, Columbus janitors have won higher wages, more work hours and health insurance in their first-ever city-wide union contract. The groundbreaking agreement will help lift more than a thousand janitors out of poverty, increasing the income of the majority of workers by an incredible 100 percent over the course of the contract—and nearly doubling the income of workers at the lowest end of the spectrum within the first 14 months alone.

Mayor Coleman, along with Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy and many other community leaders, joined over 150 other community members and janitors to support the campaign on October 31st at a rally for the janitors' negotiations.

"The Justice for Janitors campaign is key to the citywide effort to improve the quality of life for families in in the City of Columbus." said Mayor Michael B. Coleman. "A 21st Century City deserves a 21st Century workforce and affordable health care, livable wages, and full-time work are essential building blocks to make Columbus a vibrant and economically viable city."

The agreement was reached through negotiations between representatives for Columbus janitors and the city's nine largest cleaning companies: ABM, Professional Maintenance of Columbus, Aetna Building Maintenance, Scioto Corp, OneSource, CSI, Blue Ridge, Ohio Custodial Maintenance, Mid-American Cleaning Contractors. Participants on both sides of the table engaged in constructive, cordial talks which took into account the challenges low-wage janitors face and the impact of a contract on the city's low-income communities. Recognizing the significance of the improvements established by the contract, both parties also agreed to continue to collaborate and reach out to other corporate leaders to join efforts to raise standards and improve the industry in the future. The agreement is already being hailed as a potential model for raising job and health care standards for low-wage workers throughout the region-including Indianapolis where janitors are currently fighting for improvements.

The agreement, which was ratified by Columbus' janitors on Saturday, provides the city's janitors with victories on five key fronts:

Higher Wages. Janitors with current wages as low as the Ohio state minimum of $6.85 an hour will receive an increase that will double their wages over the term of the agreement.

More hours. The new contract will increase work hours for janitors currently provided with only 4 hours of work a night to seven hours a shift in the first 24 months. The additional hours and the wage increase mean that a typical janitor will see her income rise by 100 percent over the course of the five-year contract. Workers who currently make $6.85 an hour will see their income rise by a remarkable 155 percent overall—and nearly double by the start of 2009.

Quality, Affordable Health Insurance. At a time when many employers are shifting health care costs on to workers, Columbus janitors won individual health insurance at a cost of only $20 per month. The health insurance will become available starting January 1, 2010.

Paid Holidays and Vacation Time. The contract will allow workers—many for the first time in their lives—paid time off from work.

Non-Discrimination Language. The contract will protect all janitorial employees from discrimination based on religion race, color, age, national origin, gender, disability, veteran status, marital status, or Union membership.

The historic union contract includes some of the largest increases in income ever won through the long-running national Justice for Janitors Campaign and builds on the momentum achieved by janitors' victories in Cincinnati and Houston. In Columbus, the victory is being seen as an important part of creating a diverse, cosmopolitan city. In their fight for a contract, Columbus janitors drew upon a strong coalition of faith, labor, political and community leaders calling for good jobs with health care and protection from discrimination based on race, gender or religion.

"Now we have the tools we need to stand up for our families, our communities, and our constitutional right to practice our religion," said janitor and bargaining committee member Faduma Mohammed.

The increase in wages and health insurance will dramatically improve the lives of over 1,200 Columbus janitors, many of whom had dealt with discrimination on the job and poverty wages. The increase in wages and hours will lift many families out of poverty, and provide janitors and their families with a steppingstone into the middle class while the health insurance will ensure workers have access to affordable health care.