Contract negotiations resumed on Monday between Columbus janitors and the cleaning contractors ABM, GCA, Mid-American, Professional Maintenance, and Scioto. Meanwhile, Columbus City Council has issued a statement calling on business leaders to intervene to resolve the labor dispute.
"While the Columbus unemployment rate continues to decline, and wages are on the rise, far too many of our residents remain underemployed," the letter states. "Ultimately, we as a community bear the expense through higher health care costs, increases in crime, and the depletion of our social services.
"It is critical that we continue to work for well-paying jobs that can support working families, break the cycle of poverty and continue to grow our economy."
SEIU Local 1, which represents the janitors in their contract negotiations, commends City Council for supporting good jobs. While Columbus’ unemployment rate remains well below the national average at 6.2%, the poverty rate has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. This is largely because jobs with good wages and benefits have been replaced with low-wage service jobs that offer little or no benefits.
Many service workers who don't get affordable health coverage through their employers also don't qualify for Medicaid. This is the predicament of Bobby Copley, a janitor who works in the Huntington building downtown. Copley has been employed by Professional Maintenance for two years, but hasn't been given the full-time hours which would qualify him for health benefits.
The last two times Copley had medical problems, he was treated in an emergency room, leaving him with medical bills that he couldn't afford to pay. "You're talking about anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 apiece," he said.
On average, full-time janitors in Columbus are paid $18,200 per year, which is below the poverty line for a family of three. Most qualify for government assistance, meaning that cleaning contractors are passing their costs on to taxpayers.
Also complicit are the Fortune 500 companies, such as Nationwide and Huntington, who engage the contractors to clean their buildings. These profitable companies are in a position to pay the contractors more for their services, and pressure them to pass this increase on to their employees. So far they haven't done so.