Janitors, security guard ask for minimum wage increase

Workers strike for a $15 minimum wage. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Tina Callahan typically spends her days cleaning a federal building in Cleveland. She’s done this all the way through the pandemic, except when she’s in a hospital bed.

Callahan has sickle cell anemia, which has resulted in surgeries, seizures and even a stroke.

“A lot of times stress is a trigger for (sickle cell anemia symptoms),” Callahan said. “This past year has been a complete test for my stress levels.”

The work she does cleaning the federal building is more and more important to prevent the spread of COVID-19, she said, so she keeps going.

“I don’t miss work unless I’m (at the hospital),” Callahan said.

Her pay, however, isn’t what she and other members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1 think it should be without hazard pay or even, in some cases, enough to live.

Callahan said she found it important to take time from her hospital bed to speak to a press call hosted by Ohio think tank Policy Matters, promoting raising minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“I feel like people who have gone to work this entire time, every day, I feel like they deserve that amount, and if you ask me, they deserve more,” Callahan said.

Other SEIU workers who have spent their time cleaning buildings and maintaining life for companies amid the pandemic are asking that their “essential” status come with a living wage.

“We shouldn’t have to put up such a fight or a hassle about it because at the end of the day, even though we may seem like the underdog, we are major at a lot of companies and corporations,” said Mary Shackelford, who works as a janitor in Cleveland’s Huntington Building.

Louis Hernandez, a security guard in Columbus, said his job sometimes feels like that of a first responder, dealing with things like bank robbers and active shooters.

But the same day that he spoke on the press call, Hernandez had to find alternative transportation to get to work because he didn’t have money to put gas in his car.

“We deal with a lot of things that aren’t in the job title,” Hernandez said. “We’re always there we get paid…not enough.”

The press call accompanied a study done by Policy Matters, which estimated a $4.9 billion yearly influx in worker pay if the minimum wage was boosted to $15 per hour by 2026.

Study co-author Michael Shields said 336,000 Ohioans are currently working in poverty, and a raise in minimum wage would impact those that have been hit by pandemic-related losses and pre-pandemic equity disparities most.

“Everyone who works for a living deserves a wage that covers the basics and recognizes the dignity of workers,” Shields said.

State legislators have attempted to bring the topic up in the most recent General Assembly, with Senate Bill 51 currently sitting in the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee after receiving one hearing, and House Bill 69, which was referred to the House Commerce and Labor Committee in February, but has yet to receive a hearing.

Both have Democratic sponsors, and therefore have a hard road ahead with a Republican majority in both legislative bodies.

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