Local janitors agree to contract that raises wages to $15 an hour in three years

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Kris Sherman-Burns, 56, who works as a janitor at Little Caesars Arena, talks about the importance of a $15-an-hour wage at an SEIU Local 1 janitors press conference and rally in Detroit Tuesday.

Detroit — Members of the local janitors union said Tuesday they signed a contract promising a $15 per hour minimum wage in three years.

Service Employees International Union Local 1 began negotiations with contractors on an agreement for more than 1,700 area janitors on June 20. The union extended a typical three-year contract to four years in exchange for the wage bump, protections against sexual harassment and security of other benefits the union negotiated previously.

“We felt it was worth it if we were going to get that path to $15,” said Stephanie Arellano, the SEIU Justice for Janitors campaign director.

The union ratified the contract on Saturday. Arellano said wage increases average about 67 cents per year. Those start on Wednesday. 

"It’ll help a lot," said Terrance McDonald, a 30-year-old east Detroiter who works at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and has a wife and nearly 2-year-old daughter.  "Bread is $2. Gas is like $3. I hope I’ll get to take my family on vacations to see all types of things. I want to enroll my daughter in private school so she can get a better education."

Union officials said the employees worked in major downtown destinations such as the Renaissance Center and Guardian Building as well as the airport and Detroit Public Schools while earning wages as low as $9.45 an hour.

 “We’re not asking for anything ridiculous,” said James Ushery, 71, a Vietnam veteran who said he came out of retirement to work as a custodian in the city's public schools to help support his grandchildren. “We’re looking for something for a basic family to live on.”

SEIU Local 1 voted last week that the union would strike if its contract demands for higher pay were not met.

“It was very tense with the employers,” Arellano said. “It was a hard push during that last week. I think they saw they were ready to walk, and they were.”

Local 1 negotiated primarily with GDI Omni, ABM and Professional Building Maintenance/Preferred Building Services, union spokesman Nick Desideri said. None of those companies responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen and at-large Detroit City Councilwoman Janeé Ayers joined several dozen union members at the Spirit of Detroit on Tuesday morning for the public announcement.

"It's making sure people have a pathway to good jobs, sustainable jobs," Ayers said, "that we make this city a city people continue to want to come to."

Although the union's demands were met, members said they would continue their One Detroit campaign. The movement seeks to ensure all Detroit workers, and those who many SEIU members work beside such as airport security and sports arena employees, get a piece of the city's resurgence

“This is all a part of the upcoming of Detroit,” McDonald said. “We are one Detroit, we are one family, and we have to stick together and make sure no one is left behind.”