Janitors who were scheduled to clean offices in the Lazarus building downtown did not show up for work yesterday. "Because of unfair labor practices by companies like Professional Maintenance and ABM, janitors have made the decision to go on strike," said Tyler French of SEIU Local 1, the union that represents the janitors, at a rally outside the Lazarus building yesterday afternoon.
In response to the janitors' organizing for a better contract, their employers have threatened and intimidated them — conduct that is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act, French said. "The building owners need to take into account whether the companies they hire to clean their buildings are violating federal law."
Any building in Columbus where contractors are engaging in similarly unlawful conduct could be next in a rolling strike across the city, the union said.
The Columbus Area Service Contractors Association, which represents seven companies who clean downtown office buildings, wants to freeze janitors' wages until 2015 and cut the number of full-time workers from 70 percent to 15 percent, leaving "hundreds of janitors with fewer hours and without company health insurance," the Columbus Dispatch reported.
"This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we are doing what we have to do," said Phillip Rudolph, a janitor at the Lazarus building. "We are standing up for a wage that will allow us to support our families. And in response we are being punished and harassed. So we decided together that we have to stand up for what's right."
"Once more we ask contractors to return to the bargaining table in good faith," said Rhonda Johnson, president of the Columbus Education Association. "What the janitors are asking for is, in our judgment, modest and reasonable. A fair contract agreement would go great lengths to promote justice for janitors and good jobs for our city."
"Over the last two years of the collective bargaining agreement, many of our employees have received wage increases totaling over 18 percent, as well as paid vacation and holiday time and other benefits," said Tim Reilly, lead negotiator for the Columbus Area Service Contractors Association. "The union's latest proposal failed to recognize these prior substantial increases received by employees."
The association would not elaborate on how many of the janitors received an 18 percent raise, or what their wages were before the increase.
Contract talks between the janitors and the cleaning contractors are scheduled to resume today.