By Annika Merrilees St. Louis Post-Dispatch Oct 23, 2019
ST. LOUIS — Janitors rallied on Wednesday at the Old Courthouse downtown to demand a $15 minimum wage.
Contract negotiations affecting more than 2,100 janitors begin next week, according to Service Employees International Union Local 1, which largely represents janitors at private businesses.
“I’m 70 years old, but can’t afford to retire,” said Eugene Hubbard.
Hubbard said he has worked for his current employer for 13 years, and he brings in $12.30 an hour. He also works about 25 hours a week as a health care worker. The median wage for janitors in the region is $10.75, the union said.
Though the contract covers a range of issues, Hubbard said that wages were the priority for members, according to a union survey.
Mark Oliver, 22, has worked as a janitor for almost two years. He makes $11.50 an hour, he said, and also has a part-time job.
“Rent is going up, bills need to be paid, and our paychecks in North County are still too small,” Oliver said. “With $15 an hour … we can invest in our neighborhoods, we can grow more businesses and create job opportunities.”
Rasheen Aldridge, a candidate for the state House of Representatives, served on former Gov. Jay Nixon’s Ferguson Commission, which recommended that the state raise the minimum wage to $15, gradually, over seven years.
“I do wish that, with us being the epicenter of everything that happened … that we wouldn’t be lagging behind other states that have already passed $15 per hour,” Aldridge said. “Missouri’s a little slow to change.”
Minimum wage has been the subject of heated debate in St. Louis and the state.
In 2015, St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen passed a measure that would have eventually raised the city’s minimum wage to $11 an hour. Business groups sued, tying it up in court for two years. When the city eventually won, the state legislature passed a law preventing municipalities from raising the minimum wage above the state’s.
In November, Missouri voters approved a statewide minimum wage increase that will land the state at $12 per hour by 2023.
In its push for a higher minimum wage, the SEIU cited other major area employers’ commitments. Washington University and BJC HealthCare both announced this year that they will gradually raise their minimum wage to $15.