PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday April 3rd, 2015, 12:46pm

SEIU Targets BMO Harris Bank Over Treatment Of Contracted Janitors (VIDEO)

A couple hundred SEIU Local 1 janitors and their supporters protested at BMO Harris Bank on Thursday over the disparity in pay and benefits among contracted custodians who clean the company's offices in Chicago and Naperville. During the downtown Chicago protest, a group of janitors and worker advocates participated in civil disobedience by blocking traffic. No arrests were made, but 19 people were issued tickets by police.

Several SEIU* Local 1 janitors and their allies participated in civil disobedience Thursday afternoon by blocking traffic during a downtown Chicago protest targeting BMO Harris Bank. 

According to police news affairs, no arrests were made, but 19 protesters were issued tickets for obstructing traffic outside BMO's Chicago headquarters, 111 W. Monroe St. 

Those issued citations were among a couple hundred people who were protesting the disparity in pay and benefits among contracted custodians who clean BMO's offices in Chicago and Naperville. 

The non-union janitors who work at BMO's Naperville office, 1200 E. Warrenville Rd., earn quite a bit less than the SEIU-represented custodians cleaning the bank company's Chicago headquarters, and they also receive no benefits.

Protesters chanted "shame on BMO" and toted signs reading "BMO puts profits over people."

SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said workers and their advocates took part in civil disobedience to "show our determination and really express our commitment to continue to fight for the rights of all janitors."

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle stood in solidarity with the workers and labor leaders at the protest.

"We're going to be judged as a society on how well we treat all of our working people," Preckwinkle told the crowd. "And we can't leave anybody behind. We can't say because you clean office buildings you don't deserve a living wage, and we can't say just because you're out in Naperville that you don't deserve a living wage when people in Chicago are getting that living wage."

Here's more from Preckwinkle, Balanoff and scenes from the demonstration:

Following remarks from Preckwinkle and other speakers, a group of janitors and supporters linked arms and blocked traffic near the intersection of LaSalle and Monroe Streets. Shortly thereafter, the protesters were led away with their hands behind their backs by police. Faith leaders, including the Rev. C.J. Hawking with the workers' rights group Arise Chicago, were among the 19 people issued tickets.

SEIU Local 1 custodians who clean BMO's Chicago headquarters receive health and pension benefits, and most earn $16 an hour, union officials said.

Non-union janitors working at BMO's Naperville office are currently seeking union representation by SEIU Local 1. They earn minimum wage, $8.25 an hour, and have no employer-provided benefits, according to union leaders.

Two different custodial contractors employ the Naperville and Chicago janitors who clean BMO's offices.

Those at the protest said BMO could provide the 10 Naperville janitors with the same wages and benefits as the Chicago janitors, if the company wanted to.

"BMO Harris Bank is basically a multi-billion company. They can afford it," said Fermin Munoz, 30, a janitor at BMO's Chicago headquarters who earns $13.95 an hour. "There's no excuse for that ... There should be equal pay."

Balanoff added, "BMO Harris can afford to hire responsible contractors who will pay the standards that thousands of janitors out in the suburbs get paid. That's all we're asking BMO Harris to do is pay the same that their competitors pay."

Munoz, a Chicago resident, said its "not right" that janitors working in BMO's Naperville office are being paid less than him, even though they perform the same job. 

"Downtown is a little bit more expensive than the suburbs. We all understand that, but cost of living is going up everywhere," he said. "It's not fair that some people struggle just to make ends meet."

BMO issued a statement to Progress Illinois in response to questions about SEIU's concerns:

We work with a number of non-union and union business partners throughout the enterprise.  This includes contracts with SEIU in Chicago. The same holds true for Naperville, we work with non-union and union business partners alike, and as contracts come up for renewal, we have an open bidding process just like in all of our markets.

Also at Thursday's protest, Balanoff announced that tentative agreements were reached this week on new contracts covering 12,000 SEIU Local 1 janitors in the Chicago region. The janitors' two master contracts -- one with the Building and Owners Management Association (BOMA) of Chicago, the main contractor for union janitors in the city, and a group of individual private contractors in the surrounding suburbs -- were set to expire on April 5.

The tentative agreements both reach "all of our contract goals," Balanoff said, adding that contract details will be released after ratification meetings next week.  

"But we're here today," Balanoff told the crowd, "because even though we settled our contracts, we know we always have to be on guard. Because if they can push one group of janitors down, they'll end up pushing all of us down."

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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