ST. LOUIS, Mo. – On April 6, over 200 members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 50 marched from the A.G. Edwards building to the Blue Cross Blue Shield building here.

Local 50 has been negotiating with the Contract Cleaners Association (CCA), an association of eight different companies, since November 16, 2001. CCA said its final offer is a 25-cents an hour annual increase. Local 50 wants a $1 an hour annual increase. The average janitor’s wage in St. Louis is $6.50.

Donald Rudd, president of Local 50, said, “We are going to get what we deserve or they are going to get what they deserve. We are going to turn this city upside down,” continued Rudd, “until our janitors have a living wage.”

Janitors at A.G. Edwards are “working for poverty wages,” said Charlie Hatcher, organizing director of Local 50. A.G. Edwards employs 140 janitors.

Kenny Jones, Alderman 22nd Ward, said that Blue Cross “makes its money off the backs of working people.” Jones told the members of Local 50 that the Board of Aldermen is behind them, adding, “I know we can win! We got to turn the heat up on the bosses!”

President of the Board of Alderman, Jim Shrewsberry, said to the janitors, “do not doubt the righteousness of your cause. You deserve what you are asking for.”

Janitors at St. Louis University (SLU), who recently signed a new contract, will receive a 66 percent wage increase in the first year and tuition costs for janitors and their families. Janitors at SLU used to be employed by Preferred Cleaning Company. Now SLU employs them.

On February 26 Local 50 announced a “historic” agreement with 10 independent cleaning companies. The agreement raises janitors wages 75 cents in the first year and 70 cents the second. Thirteen independent cleaning companies have now signed the agreement.

Tom Williams, executive vice president of SEIU, said, “We don’t want a minimum house. We don’t need minimum schools. So, why should we settle for a minimum wage?” Williams then cited average janitors wages in the Midwest. Janitors in Chicago make $12, Milwaukee and Detroit, $10, and $9 in Cleveland. “St. Louis is the only city in the Midwest,” Williams continued, “that is trying to hold its janitors down.”

“Building owners make millions and they want to pay you minimum wage,” said Williams. “It is indecent and it’s immoral.”

At the end of the march, Hatcher said, “CCA can keep its 25 cents. It ain’t nothing but chump change. If they aren’t going to give us what we deserve, we will take it.”

On April 4, in solidarity with the Student Labor Action Project’s Day of Action, Hatcher spoke with students at Webster Univeristy about the Justice for Janitors campaign. Many students at Webster and Washington University are helping Local 50 in their current struggle with the CCA.

Hatcher also talked about the role of students in the Justice for Janitors campaign at Harvard. They held sit-ins and protested to urge campus administration to pay a living wage to custodial and janitorial workers. On Dec. 19, 2001, the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies recommended a “significant” wage increase.

The Harvard students are now on a cross-country tour, visiting other campuses including Duke, Rutgers, Princeton and Brown. Local 50 has invited the Harvard students to St. Louis. They are scheduled to speak at Washington Univeristy April 17 and Webster University April 18.

The author can be reached at tonpec2000@yahoo.coma