Columbus janitors win union

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Coming on the heels of organizing victories in Cincinnati and Houston, some 1,200 janitors here, organizing with SEIU, won contracts with nine of the city’s largest employers last month.

“This is a historic victory,” said Service Employees union organizer Chris Moore. “It will double the income of some of this area’s lowest paid workers.”

The agreement came soon after an Oct. 31 unity rally at City Hall, where Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy spoke out in support of the union organizing drive. The nearly 200 folks at the rally demanded that the richest city corporations stop blocking the organizing drive and recognize the janitors’ right to unionize. Most of Columbus’ unions, as well as many social justice groups, were in attendance at the rally.

Coleman, the city’s first African American mayor, spoke sharply of his long support for organized labor. “I remember as a youth my mother working hard, tough jobs to help us get an education. We always supported organized labor, because organized labor always supported us. As long as I’m mayor, Columbus will be a union city,” he shouted to the cheering crowd.

County Commissioner Kilroy, an announced Democratic candidate for the congressional seat now held by conservative Republican Deborah Pryce, also spoke out strongly in support of the union drive. “A union city is an economically strong city. United, we will make sure that central Ohio is union-strong,” she said.

Incumbent Rep Pryce, following numerous other Republicans, announced she will not seek reelection in 2008.

“We now have the tools we need to stand up for our families and our communities,” said janitor and organizing committee member Faduma Mohammed.

The union contract effective Dec. 1 will raise wages, give janitors paid holidays and vacation time, as well as strengthen health care coverage for 1,200 janitors.