UUSC Witness Event
General Assembly 2006 Event 2049A
As part of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's commitment to economic justice at home as well as around the world, a delegation of Unitarian Universalist volunteers joined the St. Louis interfaith group "Jobs for Justice" in advocating for a better work situation for those in the non-union St. Louis janitorial trades.
Led by UUSC President Charlie Clements and Rev. Dr. Suzanne Meyer of the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, the delegation consisted of various UU ministers from around the country, interested UU volunteers, several union and non-union workers from the St. Louis area, and UUSC staff.
The delegation traveled about ten miles to the headquarters of Enterprise Rent-a-Car just outside of St. Louis. There it met with several people from corporate management, including representatives from its legal team, its human resources team, and its corporate communications department.
The concern was not with Enterprise itself but rather with a subcontractor that Enterprise employs to do its janitorial services. This subcontractor supplies many workers who clean buildings in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and Enterprise accounts for about 14% of its business. The subcontractor's workers are not unionized, their wages are below or barely near minimum wage, and they have very few health benefits. These non-union workers want the same benefits as janitors who belong to unions.
In addition, there has allegedly been intimidation of at least one janitor who was seen talking to a union janitor on his own time; police were called in to "break up" the conversation.
Clements and Meyer noted that Enterprise itself had a reputation for treating its employees well, and it was supportive of community projects in the greater St. Louis area. They appealed to the Enterprise executives in the room to do the right thing by leading the way for economic justice for its subcontracted employees as well. The hope is that if Enterprise changes its policies with its subcontractor, a ripple effect will cause many other companies to follow suit.
Specifically, Rev. Meyer asked that:
- Enterprise bring pressure on the subcontractor to come to the bargaining table with other responsible contractors and negotiate for fair working conditions for its employees.
- If the subcontractor is not willing to negotiate, that Enterprise consider changing subcontractors for its janitorial services.
- Enterprise send a letter to the subcontractor protesting any interference with workers who may be trying to organize, as long as it is done outside company time.
Enterprise executives responded that they had thought that all their subcontracted employees were making at least the minimum wage. They promised to look into the matter and agreed to set another meeting in the near future with Rev. Meyer and the local "Jobs with Justice" representatives.
UUSC Hotwire: A human rights weblog: Enterprising UUs
Reported by Allan Stern; photos by Allan Stern; edited by Margy Levine Young.