Push to raise Detroit janitors' pay launched

The Detroit News
Ashley 'A.J.' Thomas uses a bull horn to lead the chants for a $15-per-hour wage as workers march along Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit.

Hundreds attended a Thursday rally in Detroit to call for higher wages and union rights for janitors.

"Billions of dollars are going to condos, hotels and restaurants," said Pamela Owens-Moore, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1's executive board and a janitor with 31-years experience. "But 20 blocks away, you see boarded-up houses, stores and a lot of empty spaces. There's something wrong with that picture."

Based in Chicago, SEIU Local 1 represents about 50,000 workers, including janitors, security officers, food services workers and others, across the Midwest.

The union local organized the rally in front of the Spirit of Detroit monument at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center downtown to kick off its "One Detroit" campaign. The effort aims to make Detroit a city that ensures janitors and all working people share in its prosperity and resurgence, officials said.

According to the union, janitors in Detroit currently earn between $9.25 and $12.45 an hour. It wants wages raised to at least $15 an hour.

"We're going to keep fighting for One Detroit," Owens-Moore said. "There aren't two Detroits. It isn't just for the rich folks. Detroit has to become One Detroit for everybody. Everyone in Detroit deserves a fair share." 

Kimberly Walker, left, and Wanda Hudson, center, both of Detroit, chant along with fellow SEIU Union members during a rally for higher wages and the One Detroit campaign. Hudson has worked as a custodian for 26 years and only makes $12.12 per hour, she said.

She was joined at the rally by colleagues, union supporters, elected officials and community leaders. The group marched and chanted in front of the Spirit monument on Woodward at Jefferson Avenue.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones said she stands with the janitors and their union in the campaign.

"Fighting for jobs isn't enough," Jones said. "Fighting for jobs that allow Detroiters to raise their families is where the real fight is. So I am here to say that I will use my voice to push developers who ask city leaders to approve tax abatements and incentives to do all they can to ensure janitors who work for them are paid a decent wage."

Some at the rally carried signs that read "1 Detroit" and "D15: Fight for 15." Many had T-shirts with a 1 Detroit logo on them.

As part of the rally, the group marched from the municipal building to Campus Martius and then toward Cobo Center. 

Pamela Owens, 60, of Detroit, who has worked as a janitor in Detroit for 31 years and now makes $15-per-hour at the Millender Center, rallies for her fellow janitorial workers to earn $15-per-hour.

Demetria Skeens, 28, was among the union members at the rally.

Skeens said she's worked as a janitor and has been a member of the union for the last six years. 

"I work hard to support my daughter," she said. "But while Detroit is resurging, my family isn't reaping the benefits. But this isn't just about janitors. It's about all working people in the city earning a living wage."


Twitter: @CharlesERamirez