MILWAUKEE – Janitors who lost their cleaning jobs at 875 E. Wisconsin Ave. last December confronted 875 East owner Stewart Wangard Monday at the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to once again ask that Wangard respect the wage and benefit levels of Downtown janitors.
Twelve 875 East janitors lost their jobs and their health insurance benefits Dec. 1st when Wangard’s building management replaced their union cleaning firm with a nonunion company that paid poverty wages and offered no access to health insurance. The vast majority of large-scale commercial office buildings Downtown are cleaned by union janitors paid $11 an hour with a modest health insurance package.
Wangard has refused to return 875 East to the responsible janitorial services practices employed by his neighboring building owners. He was scheduled to appear at the County Board committee on Economic and Community Development Monday at 9AM to present plans for an apartment development on county land in the Park East Corridor.
“One way or another, Mr. Wangard wants to use money from the health benefits and wages he took from me and other janitors to help build a new building,” said Bessie Hervey, one of several displaced janitors who had cleaned 875 East since it opened ten years ago. “That’s not the right direction for the city, the county or for Downtown.”
Hervey and her fellow janitors were joined by their union, Service Employees International Union, Local 1, and many community allies and supporters. Union leaders emphasize that they are not opposed to responsible new development downtown.
“We cannot support a development by an owner who has actively undermined the standard of living that janitors fought hard for twenty years to achieve,” said Pete Hanrahan, Wisconsin Director of SEIU Local 1, noting that in the early 1990s, janitors made as little as $4.25 an hour.
“As Milwaukee County moves development forward in the Park East, we – as a community – need to ensure that the developers and owners we’re doing business with are responsible, and that the community as a whole is allowed to benefit.”
SEIU Local 1 represents over 1,000 janitors and other workers in Downtown Milwaukee.