‘Our union is growing stronger every day’: Kansas City janitors win major contract gains

Photo: Union members celebrate contract win. Credit: @SEIULocal1

In Kansas City, 900 janitors who are members of Service Employees International Union Local 1 won a historic new contract. Their contract includes an 18% increase in wages, which means $15 an hour for full-time daytime workers, Juneteenth as a paid holiday, two more paid sick days totaling three annual sick days, and stronger language regarding union access, immigration rights and non-discrimination.

Many Kansas City janitors were getting paid Missouri minimum wage, $11.15 an hour. On average they received $13.53 an hour. The median cost of rent is about $1,300, which is up 13% in Kansas City since July 2021, and in some zip codes near where many janitors work the rent is up by 42%. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development categorizes people paying over 50% of their income on rent as severely rent-burdened and with janitors’ pay before their new contract, they would’ve been paying over 75% of their paycheck on rent. In addition to rent prices skyrocketing, so has the cost of food and gas with an inflation rate around 9%. This victory comes at a crucial time for the union members, who will now be able to better keep up with the rise in the cost of living. 

Liberation News interviewed Terry Long, a longtime SEIU Local 1 member who has worked at Woodley Building Maintenance for 14 years. Long shared about how he got involved in organizing in his workplace: “Throughout my time as a janitor, I have seen firsthand how working conditions and workplace culture change under different contractors. It was important to me that not only myself but all my coworkers were treated fairly and felt safe in our workplace so I decided to get involved in the union and fight for what I believed we deserved.”

Long explained how the struggle did not just start with the pandemic. He gave credit to the janitors who have been fighting for strong union jobs that support them and their families decades prior: “We won because of the essential janitors before us who paved the way. We won because me and my coworkers continued to raise our voices. We won because our Local 1 Union Representatives empowered us. It was a team effort in building a Kansas City that works for all of us.”

When asked about the impact this new contract will have on him and his coworkers’ lives, Long shared: “One of the biggest things we won was two paid sick days for all employees! This is the first time in history that paid sick leave has been on the table and won in our contract. This will allow us to prioritize ourselves and the health of our loved ones.”

SEIU Local 1 janitor Beatrice Salazar spoke more about this sick leave victory in Local 1’s press release: “I am a janitor at Velociti Services – never in my time here have we seen paid sick leave on the bargaining table. Many of us didn’t think it was possible, but we proved that together we can win big and win what we rightfully deserve.”

Together, janitors also won $15 an hour in addition to good annual raises over time. Terry Long shared with Liberation News: “The cost of everything is going up — this bump was beyond needed for working families.” Long also talked about onsite changes that will “create a better working environment” that they won in the new contract such as anti-discrimination language and measures to protect immigrant rights.

Moving forward from their historic victory, Long shared how they will first celebrate this huge win and that “it is important that we keep this momentum going to keep building our movement. Our union is growing stronger every day, and although we have a lot of work to do, I know we can accomplish anything together.”

Long shared with Liberation News some inspiring key lessons learned from this contract fight: “I learned that we really are stronger together. When working people come together, demand what we rightfully deserve and support each other on the way — we can win big. This contract is only just the start. We are confident in each other and in our union representatives. We will continue to build power.”

This contract is the latest victory in a promising trend of rising union activity in Kansas City. Unionized Starbucks workers in the suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, walked out over the unjust firing of a coworker, and another Starbucks in the Country Club Plaza shopping center was closed after the workers started unionizing. Recently, workers at the Taco Bell on Wornall Road went on strike to protest poor treatment, poor pay and union-busting. The Kansas City working class is feeling the weight of inflation, the rising cost of living and mass inequality — and they are organizing to fight for what is theirs to win!

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