Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Chicago Window Washers Push For Higher Wages

Window washers announced they would hold a protest outside the Trump Tower on North Wabash Avenue, saying they risk their lives doing their jobs and deserve better pay.
Breaking Business - Window washers push for higher wages: Chicago window washers to rally outside Trump Tower. Dozens of window washers and supporters rallied outside Trump Tower on Monday, a day before a labor contract is set to expire. "Who we are? Window washers," the protesters yelled, most of them clad in navy blue pants and shirts. They slowly walked from North Wabash Avenue to LaSalle Street along Wacker Drive, pumping yellow flags along the way and chanting, "No contract, no peace."

The workers, mostly men making between $11.15 and $17.65 per hour, are prepared to strike if a new three-year agreement is not reached, said Izabela Miltko, a spokeswoman with Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents 235 window washers.

In a statement, Neal S. Zucker, chief executive of Corporate Cleaning Services, said the company has an excellent safety record and its workers are the "highest paid" in the industry. Stagnant wages have helped hold down inflation over the last 6-7 years. Now more and more workers are demanding wage increases. this is part of a trend that eventually will end the current period of low inflation.

Among sticking points are wages and health insurance. The union wants to close the gap between Chicago and New York, where window washers start at about $20 per hour and employers pay for health insurance premiums, Miltko said. More than half of workers can't afford health insurance in Chicago, Miltko added.

Cruz Guzman, 24, said that under the current contract, workers pay 40 percent of health insurance premiums. The cost is so high, Cruz said, that when the season ramps up in March, he owes his employer up to two pay checks for the months in which he didn't make enough to cover his share of the cost.

Guzman said he works for Corporate Cleaning Services, which pays workers on a point system, rather than by the hour. For example, Guzman said that workers get 100 points, or 100 hours, to clean a building. The company would pay them commission if they finish with extra points, but if it takes them longer to clean, they work without pay until they are done, Guzman said.

Workers, he said, want an end to the point system because they feel it forces them to rush and take shortcuts, often at the expense of safety. It also disproportionately hurts older workers, who can't move as fast, Guzman said. "We are not machines; we are not numbers; we are fathers of families," said Guzman, whose father and uncles are also window washers.

Zucker said the point system results in an effective pay rate of $29.42 per hour. He said employees have the opportunity to switch to an hourly pay rate three times a year. All of his employees declined that offer in May. "We have always believed in treating our workers fairly and ensuring they are well-compensated for the dangerous work that they do," Zucker said. The union is negotiating with Corporate Cleaning Services and seven other companies that bargain together in a coalition.

Outside the City Club of Chicago luncheon, before Trump spoke, a crowd of protesters chanted, “Trump is a racist” and cited as hate speech the real-estate mogul’s controversial remarks last week describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists” who bring drugs and crime with them.

Later Monday afternoon, window washers announced they would hold a protest outside the Trump Tower on North Wabash Avenue, saying they risk their lives doing their jobs and deserve better pay.

Earlier this month, in Trump’s speech announcing a run for president, he deplored immigrants from Mexico who “have lots of problems” and are “bringing those problems to us.” “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists,” he said, adding, “and some, I assume, are good people.” Trump went on Fox News on Thursday to say, “Of course I’m standing by the statement.” He added, “I love Mexico, I love the Mexican people.”

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