On Thursday August 29, members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church and other community supporters joined Columbus janitors for a prayer vigil outside the Lazarus building downtown. The janitors are engaged in a labor dispute with Professional Maintenance, the company that provides cleaning services to the Lazarus building.
"We come here today as humbly as we can," said janitor Freda Pridgen. "We come in peace to pray for all hard-working janitors. I'm tired of trying to convince these contractors to do what they already know is right. Lord knows we can't live with the unfair wages, the hour cuts, and the lack of health care.
"I work hard and do the best I can wherever I'm at, because I work unto the Lord," Pridgen said. "We need the Lord's intervention today."
The janitors also brought a letter to deliver to Alex Fischer, CEO of the Columbus Partnership, a civic organization of business leaders, asking for his support. The Columbus Partnership's offices are located in the Lazarus building.
Reverend Eric Meter of First UU recalled the words of President Obama at the March on Washington the day before. "He said that the moral arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn't bend on its own. It takes people gathering together with courage to say, 'This is not right.'
"We pray today for courage, and pray that the decision makers will open their ears, and look into our eyes when we deliver our letter. We deserve to be heard," Rev. Meter said.
"Our lives are as precious to us as those on the top floor of this building are precious to them. They wouldn't wish part-time work with no benefits on themselves, their partners, or their children. Why would they wish that for anyone else?"
Rev. Meter led the assembly in a blessing of the janitors' brooms and the placards they use in their labor rallies. "These placards and brooms extend the reach of our hands, our work, our dignity," he said. "There's no difference between a broom and a placard. We clean buildings, and we clean people's consciences. This is blessed work, whether we're cleaning at night or marching in the afternoon."
A delegation from the prayer vigil waited in the lobby of the Lazarus building for 20 minutes, while the rest of the vigil participants outside sang freedom songs from the civil rights era. No one from Alex Fischer's office came down to receive the delegation's letter, but the receptionist at the front desk agreed to deliver the letter when her shift was over.
"I told the very gracious receptionist that the workers here do not stand alone, and that we will be paying attention," Rev. Meter said.
When the janitors arrived at work Thursday night, Professional Maintenance called the janitors into a meeting and made intimidating statements that were in violation of their rights.
You can sign a petition in support of the Columbus janitors here.