Protesting what they called unfair labor practices by the city's largest employer of service workers, the members of Service Employees International Local Union staged a downtown march June 15 that included nearly 200 people stretched out over two city blocks.
State Rep. Bill Crawford addresses a crowd of nearly 200 during the Justice for Janitors march.
The group was definitely a multilingual crowd, with nearly every sign in both English and Spanish. "Nosotros Existimos No Mas Invisibles," read one of the most common signs. "We Will be Invisible No More."
The group sought to publicize their grievances with Groupe Service France (GSF), the largest cleaning contractor in Indianapolis.
"In addition to the low pay and no benefits, they've been using unsafe equipment and violating workers' rights," said local organizer Rebecca Maran. "They've been harassing, intimidating and firing workers who try to organize."
She said that the SEIU is pressing a number of charges of unfair practices with the National Labor Relations Board.
The speakers and supporters at the event included a significant religious element. "[GSF] came here to put profit before people," said Darren Cushmon Wood, pastor of the Speedway United Methodist Church. "We say that people should come before profits. God is on your side! We are working for a living wage, which is a moral value. We are marching for dignity in the workplace and, most importantly, we are marching for freedom and democracy in the workplace. Nobody in America should be harassed, intimidated and fired for joining a union."
The local politicians showing their support included state Reps. Bill Crawford and David Orentlicher. "As the people who clean up the mess they make, who do the dirty work of the nation, you should be paid in a way that allows our nation to grow economically," Crawford told the assembled crowd.
The marchers included supporters from Detroit, Cleveland and Montreal. "Fifteen years ago, janitors marched in Central City, Calif., because they were being paid poverty wages," local President Peter Henrahan said. "And the police, at the request of the building owners, came in and crushed their rally, crushed workers. We won that struggle because it was just. For the last 15 years, we've been making progress. Whether we're working in a different city or a different building, we all deserve a decent wage. That's why we've got so many of our friends from other cities. This struggle in Indianapolis is their struggle, just like it's our struggle in Detroit, Montreal and Los Angeles."
In contrast to the march of 15 years ago, the group cooperated closely with the Indianapolis Police Department, who directed traffic around and away from the large march. "Let's give a big round of thanks to the IPD, who are here to help us and protect us from the corporations," Henrahan said.
For more information: www.indyjanitors.org.