Janitors rally in Detroit for higher wages

By: - May 11, 2022 3:26 pm

Service Employees International Union Local 1 workers in Detroit, May 11, 2022 | Ken Coleman

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) janitors and city and county elected officials rallied Wednesday at Hart Plaza in Detroit in an effort to secure a new employment contract. 

There, they chanted about their demand for a wage increase: “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” 

Currently, janitors in downtown Detroit buildings work on hourly wages ranging between $11.25 and $15.30, according to the union. In recent years, they have fought for increased wages. 

“For the past two years, Local 1 janitors have been putting their health at risk to keep Detroit running throughout the pandemic — for commercial buildings to public schools to airports,” said SEIU Local 1 Vice President Pam Owens. “Today, from RenCen to Bedrock, Detroit janitors are coming back to the table to fight for a One Detroit that works for all of us.” 

The contract covers 1,700 janitors in Southeast Michigan and is set to expire July 31. The workers service a variety of buildings in the region, including Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Ford World Headquarters, and Detroit’s First National Building, Renaissance Center and Wayne County’s Guardian Building as well as the Southfield Tower Center in Southfield. 

City of Detroit Councilmember Coleman Young II; Wayne County Commissioners Alisha Bell and Tim Killeen; and Romulus City Councilmember Virginia Williams attended the rally. 

Detroit City Councilmember Coleman Young II | Ken Coleman

“It is time for us to do for you, what you have done for us,” said Young about the essential workers nature of many janitorial positions. “You have redefined the definition of hero because you nearly put your life on the line for us.”  

Bell, who is Wayne County Commission chair, also offered words of support to the rallying workers. 

“They do the hard work and it’s always good to support them,” said Bell. 

A call to Ford World Headquarters, where some SEIU janitors work, was not returned. 

Carla Anderson, a SEIU Local 1 Executive Board member and a Detroit janitor for 34 years said her co-workers will “fight for what we deserve” at the bargaining table.  

“We janitors showed up through the pandemic, through the revitalization of Detroit, and now we are showing up to the bargaining table to demand wages and benefits that reflect our hard work,” she said. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.