INDIANAPOLIS - As workers throughout the Midwest face ever-increasing economic pressures, Indianapolis janitors have won higher wages, more work hours and health insurance in their first-ever city-wide union contract.

The groundbreaking agreement will help lift more than 1,000 janitors out of poverty, increasing the income of the average worker and increasing the income of the lowest-paid workers by an incredible 169 percent during the course of the contract, more than doubling the income of workers at the lowest end of the spectrum within the first 20 months.

"Lately there has been nothing but bad news for workers here in the Midwest," says Perla Garay, janitor at ABM. "But this contract has built a sense of hope for everybody in this city who has to work, pay bills, buy groceries and go to the doctor."

The agreement comes following similar janitors' victories reached in the nearby Ohio cities of Columbus and Cincinnati. Cities like Indianapolis have seen a sharp increase in service-sector employment. In all three cities janitors gained the support of hundreds of religious, elected and community leaders, including United Methodist pastors, and urged the region's numerous Fortune 500 companies, who contract out for cleaning services and who combined take in more than $1-billion a day in revenues, to support good jobs with health care for the region's working families, who are falling further behind as corporate CEOs receive record levels of compensation in millions of dollars.

The agreement recently ratified by janitors provides the city's janitors with victories on four key fronts.

  • Higher Wages. Janitors with current wages as low as the Federal minimum wage of $5.85 an hour will earn at least $9 an hour by 2012. All workers will receive incremental increases of at least $1.50 over the course of the contract.

  • More Hours. The new contract will increase work hours for janitors currently provided with an average of only 4.5 hours of work a night to seven hours a shift in the first two years and eight months. The additional hours and the wage increase mean that the average office janitor will see their income rise by 103 percent over the course of the four-year contract.

  • Quality, affordable health insurance. At a time when many employers are shifting health care costs to workers, Indianapolis janitors won individual health insurance at a cost of only $20 per month. The health insurance will become available starting Jan. 1, 2011.

  • Paid holidays and vacation time. The contract will allow workers, many for the first time in their lives, paid time off from work. Janitors will receive six paid holidays per year and be able to take vacation time beginning the first year of the contract.

The increase in wages and health insurance will dramatically improve the lives of 1,500 Indianapolis janitors, many of whom had been earning as little as $26 a day without benefits.