Quick Hit Brandon Campbell Wednesday April 4th, 2012, 3:53pm

Union Janitors Continue Push For Wage And Benefit Increases (VIDEO)

With their contract set to expire on Sunday, a group of about 50 Chicago-based SEIU Local 1 janitors, who were joined by members from community organizations, held a press conference Wednesday morning to publicly call for higher wages and an increase in health benefits.

Taking place on the 44th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the janitors and their supporters aimed to connect their rally to King’s backing of a union sanitation workers’ strike in April 1968.

“Forty-four years later we stand in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. advocating, calling upon those who have responsibility here to provide janitors … with justice, a wage that will allow them to support their families with benefits that will provide for them everything a family needs,” Rev. Calvin Morris, a civil rights activist who worked with Dr. King, said at the conference.

The Local 1 contract, which will continue to be negotiated Thursday for suburban janitors and Friday for Chicago-based janitors, will affect about 22,000 members in 11 cities, with about 13,000 of those custodians currently working in Chicago.

The group, including SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff, did not to give specific numbers regarding what they’re looking for in a wage increase, but laid out its position in a press release. According to the release, Local 1 janitors in Chicago average earn about $31,000 annually. The average yearly cost of living for a family of four in Chicago, according to the Economic Policy Institute, is about $48,800.

“In terms of wages there is a far gap between where we’re at and where BOMA and the contractors are,” Balanoff said. “We are looking for a good wage that will not push us into poverty downtown and will pull us out of poverty in the suburbs.”

Here's more from today's press conference:

The Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, or BOMA, is one of two organizations with which Local 1 representatives are negotiating for wage increases. While BOMA is the main contractor for union janitors in the city, a group of individual private contractors in the surrounding suburbs is also negotiating the same contract with Local 1.

While a representative from BOMA did not return a phone call in time for this story, BOMA Executive Vice President Michael Cornicelli told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that the two groups would come to an agreement.

But if an agreement is not reached the union janitors, who clean the offices of some of Chicago’s most successful businesses and large corporations, such as JP Morgan Chase – which received about $34.7 million in state tax breaks last year – are prepared to go on strike, after authorizing one with a vote last Sunday.

“We try hard, but we can’t make ends meet with the salary we make,” said Mae McLenin, a janitor who works for Chicago Public Schools. “We scrape floors, we dust, we move furniture, and we come to work every day. We can’t afford to take a day off.”

* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.

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