On Thursday, Columbus janitors and community supporters gathered in the Arena District to call on Nationwide to deliver on its agreement with the city to bring 1400 jobs to downtown Columbus, or return the state and local tax breaks it has received since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.
The janitors brought a bill for $34 million printed on a large placard. "It represents a stark choice we're presenting to Nationwide today: either fulfill your promise, and create good jobs and economic prosperity for all of the city, or return the $34 million to the taxpayers," said Tyler French, regional coordinator for SEIU Local 1, the union that represents the janitors.
"If Nationwide is on our side, why do they continue to support poverty-wage jobs in Columbus, while ignoring their promise to the taxpayers?" French asked. The janitors are involved in a labor dispute with ABM Industries, the contractor that provides cleaning services to Nationwide's downtown offices.
"When corporations take public money, they have a responsibility to the public," said Freda Pridgen, a Columbus janitor. "Low wage jobs force workers to go to public clinics and receive food stamps. We don’t want that. We want to make this city a fair place for people who work hard. All work should be respected."
"Janitors like Freda aren't trying to get rich," said State Representative Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent). "They are just working hard for a middle class existence that is out of reach right now. I know the janitors have a lot of support in the Ohio House of Representatives and they have my support. We are standing with you."
"What’s going on with the janitors is part of a bigger problem facing our country — we have too many low wage jobs and not enough middle class jobs. Our city's janitors clean some of the most expensive real estate in the world, yet are not paid enough to raise a family," said State Representative Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown).
"Columbus needs to make a decision: will we be a city of narrow privilege or broad prosperity?" Hagan said. "Columbus' business leaders have a responsibility to our communities and should support good jobs that allow workers to build a better life."
SEIU Local 1 says that taxpayers do not have evidence that Nationwide has brought 1400 jobs to downtown in exchange for benefiting from a downtown Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district. The janitors' union sent a letter to Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman earlier this week, asking him to investigate Nationwide and its compliance with the TIF agreements with the city.