A total of 44 protesters from Service Employees International Union Local 1 were detained and cited by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department late Tuesday for refusing to stop blocking the intersection of Pennsylvania and Ohio streets.

Indianapolis Local 1 janitors rallied and participate in civil disobedience outside Regions Tower before contract negotiations between janitors and cleaning companies, GSF, SBM, Platinum Cleaning, and ABM were set to resume Wednesday.

The outcome of the current contract negotiations will determine wages and working conditions for more than 600 Indianapolis janitors.

Before the demonstration, organizers passed out signs and sticks of chalk beforehand to mark where they sat in the street before being detained.

A number of call-and-response chants rang through the streets as signs were given out including:

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

“The people united will never be defeated!”

“Si se puede!” 

“Get up get down, Indy is a union town!”

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Poverty has got to go!”

“The people united will never be defeated!”

Grabbing a megaphone before the protesters made their way into the street, Claire Pollard, strategic researcher for SEIU Local 1, said the issue at hand extended far beyond the contract negotiations at hand.

“This is not just a fight for a good contract for 650 Indianapolis janitors,” she said. “This is a fight for our families, for our neighborhood, and our community.”

Pollard said their demands included full-time work, sick days, and health care.

“We are here today to do whatever it takes,” she said. “Nobody should have to live like this. Enough is enough. We need good jobs and we need them now.”

Emerita Serrano, a janitor who works in the Regions Tower, then passed the megaphone back and forth between herself and a translator. She said the $9.75 she made per hour was nowhere near enough to support her family comfortably.

“It's a very low wage for everything I have to cover in my household,” she said. “In the name of Jesus we're going to win this contract because we have to win.”

Pollard then directed protesters into the street. While IMPD cruisers blocked off nearby intersections, banner-holders made their way to the crosswalks and arrest captains led protesters to their positions in the intersection.

Pollard said the IMPD was aware of the protest ahead of time.

“It is our understanding that they will be released since it is a peaceful protest,” she said. “We announced that we were going to do this.”

As the protesters sat down and marked their locations in chalk to an acapella version of “We Shall Overcome,” the IMPD began to make their move. Two IndyGo buses were idling across the street, one for protesters with last names which began with A-L and one for those with last names starting with M-Z.

“I am a law enforcement officer from Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department,” blared their megaphone. “I am ordering you out of the street or you will face arrest.”

One by one, IMPD officers addressed each protester, asked them if they were going to move, and then escorted them to the waiting buses. After the intersection was cleared, the buses drove a few blocks north, and protesters were released a short time later.


Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO Newsweekly, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

Writer - Local Government and Justice

My background is that I'm the fourth generation in my family to work as a journalist. I also have a degree from Indiana University in Elementary Education. My wife, Ash, and I have two children, Harper, 4, and Emerald, 1.

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