By Daniel R. Gangler
INDIANAPOLIS - Saying an emphatic "NO" to economic segregation, more than 250 pastors, janitors and supporters of social justice joined in an hour-long prayer vigil rally Aug. 15 on Market Street just west of Monument Circle near the Market Street Tower, a building that does not pay a living wage to its janitors, according to the Indianapolis Clergy Committee of Interfaith Worker Justice.
This is the same building where five pastors, including the Rev. Darren Cushman-Wood, senior pastor of Speedway United Methodist Church, were arrested May 17 during a sit-down prayer vigil held at the entrance of the building.
Cushman-Wood co-hosted the August rally with Bishop T. Garrott Benjamin, senior pastor of Light of the World Christian Church. Other speakers included Disciples of Christ ministers Richard Hamm and Linda McCrae, Fr. Tom Fox of Hispanic Ministries in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Indiana State Rep. David Orentlicher and Craig Jones, head of the Cincinnati janitors' union, which recently won better pay and benefits concessions from that city's largest janitorial companies.
"We come here today to denounce economic segregation. Is it not too much to ask that janiors in Indianapolis earn a living wage?" Is it not too much to ask that janitors in Indianapolis have access to affordable heath care?" Janitors also deserve a voice in the workplace and full-time steady employment, Cushman-Wood said.
Rights of workers
At issue for more than 125 Indianapolis clergy are the rights of workers, sub-standard pay and lack of affordable health care insurance for janitors employed by Executive Management Services, an Indianapolis-based janitorial service that contracts with HDG Mansur, Indianapolis Power and Light, The Children's Museum, Roche Diagnostics and Dow Agra Sciences.
Former EMS employee, Darnale Tillman said he made $7.25 an hour (biweekly pay of $310) and had no health benefits. He said he was fired by EMS for trying to organize workers.
Tillman and other janitors also cited a lack of training and inadequate safety and cleaning equipment to do their jobs.
Tillman's wife, Kim, told those gathered, "We believe this is a God ordained thing for us to do."
Hamm said to the applause and cheers of the lunchtime crowd, "Something is wrong when a person works full-time and still makes wages under the poverty line of $15,000 a year." He further noted that CEOs on the average in the U.S. typically bring home some $14 million in compensation while increasing their profits by "moving to places where there is no voice for labor."
Benjamin who heads the largest Disciples congregation in Indianapolis, added, "A first-class city cannot have citizens locked out of a decent wage, locked out of affordable health care," added "If we can spend a billion dollars on a stadium, surely we can give decent wages to a janitor who cleans up our mess," he said to loud applause.
The pastors are working to support justice for janitors with the Service Employees International Union, which is working in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Indianapolis for janitors.
Clergy have had some success with Indianapolis businesses. During the rally they celebrated that business leaders like Eli Lilly, Simon Malls, Duke Realty and Sallie Mae have responded positively to the needs of Indianapolis janitors.
In an open letter to the "Indianapolis Community" shared at the rally, clergy asked, "We want to know why building owners would employ janitorial companies that knowingly and purposely prevent our community's transformation from poverty-wage jobs into the kind of jobs that will benefit our city."
For more than two years, Indianapolis clergy, including United Methodist clergy, have led a "Janitors for Justice" campaign, seeking to improve janitors' poor wages, scant benefits and long hours.
During the rally Hamm, Mmoja Ajabu, a minister at Light of the World, McCrae and Fox delivered a petition to the Indianapolis Power and Light Building on nearby Monument Circle, asking IPL to investigate the labor practices of its janitorial company, EMS, which opposes a union for janitors. McCrae reported that IPL officials received the petition without response. She said the group would press ahead for an agreement with companies that have not signed with a union.
For more information about the campaign, log on to www.interfaithworkerjustice.org.