The Battle Over America's Low-Wage Workers
Time magazine recently published an article that targeted two custodians in the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh areas. Craig Jones has worked in custodial services in Cincinnati for the last five years and earns $6.50 an hour with no benefits, vacation time or sick days. Working roughly four hours a night, five nights a week, Jones brings home just enough to pay for his "spartan ground-level apartment," utilities and food.
Less than 300 miles away in Pittsburgh, Robyn Gray is able to work a 40-hour-a-week custodial job for $12.52 an hour, including health insurance, three weeks' vacation and three personal days a year. This salary provided her with the opportunity to purchase a home, work towards sending her two children to college, and even take a vacation.
The difference between the two workers is Gray "lives in a city where janitors are unionized and have collectively negotiated salaries considerably above the minimum/living wage."
According to the article, the push to help individuals in low-paying jobs, such as janitorial, came "when the Change to Win Federation, made up of seven labor unions that split from the AFL-CIO last year to focus more directly on the lives of low-wage Americans, officially launched its first national initiative on April 24. Dubbed Make Work Pay!, the campaign aims to convince the public in 35 U.S. cities that all Americans who work hard deserve to earn a wage they can live on. "Someone working full time should be able to support themselves and their family," says Anna Burger, Change to Win's chairwoman."
Supporters of the increase in living wages has demonstrated that raising janitors pay will help other industries and the city overall. Pittsburgh, as an example, has seen increased graduation rates, home ownership rates in areas where janitors live, and increased pay for other workers in buildings where unionized janitorial workers are employed. The city has also seen the number of families below the poverty line drop.
Gray can sympathize with the position Jones is in. She has seen the cleaning industry become what it is today in Pittsburgh and hopes that Jones will see similar success. She is quoted in a Post-Gazette article as saying, "This is what the American Dream is all about - working hard to build a better life and being able to make life better for your children. This dream is not a reality for janitors in Cincinnati. They are forced to survive paycheck to paycheck with little hope of getting ahead."
To read more about the Time magazine article, click here.
For Gray opinion on the topic, read the Post Gazette article here.
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