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Detroit janitors avert strike, win $15 an hour in new contract

SEIU Local 1

Janitors with Detroit’s Service Employees International Union Local One are declaring victory after members ratified a new contract this past weekend.

SEIU Local 1 includes about 1700 custodial service workers in many downtown Detroit buildings, the Detroit Public Schools Community District, Detroit Metro Airport, and other locations.

The four-year contract will provide all members with at least $15 an hour after three years. The janitors had threatened to strikeif that demand wasn’t met.

Mardy Woods, a member of the union bargaining team, says members stayed disciplined and united during negotiations.

“We didn’t budge,” Woods said. “We had to let the contractors [know] how serious we were about getting a living wage, a wage that can help support families. Not only just for ourselves, but we’re building a future for our children.”

The union ran a “One Detroit” campaign arguing that service workers and the communities they live in deserve a share of downtown Detroit’s new prosperity.

“Detroit is at a point, especially in our downtown area, where they’re making money, and you can see the revenue but they didn’t want to share it,” Woods said. “And we were tired of being sick and tired.”

Stephanie Arellano, SEIU Detroit director, said, “Letting folks know that we were really not kidding, that folks are ready to walk -- and they really were ready to walk -- made a big difference.”

Arellano said the new contract does not include any union “givebacks,” and contains some new provisions meant to protect workers from sexual harassment. She said the union will continue its One Detroit campaign to bring more Detroit-area service workers into the fold.

“We’re not going to sit in these buildings on our path to $15 and leave security officers behind, we’re not going to leave airport workers behind, who SEIU represents all over the country,” Arellano said. “And we’re certainly not going to leave any [sports] arena workers behind.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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