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Workers rally and say, "It’s about respect"

by staff |
May 17, 2009
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Women holding protest signs
(Fight Back! News)

Gary, IN - Edgewater Systems for Balanced Living is a social service agency here whose services cover children with developmental disorders as well as adults with chronic mental illness. The 180 housekeepers, maintenance workers, therapists and teachers are members of Teamsters Local 743. These workers care for their clients, often giving out of their own pockets to buy things for them.

However, their wages are below industry standards and staffing levels are worse than the state average in jobs where staff are threatened by violence and where working conditions are difficult. When negotiations for a new contract came around this year, management offered raises of only1%, 1.5% and 1% over three years.

It was too much disrespect for workers who are already sick and tired, so they took a stand. On April 15, 50 workers and their supporters rallied outside a meeting of the company’s board of directors. Joining the workers were representatives of three other Teamsters locals and workers from SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 73.

Wages, safe staffing levels and seniority rights for layoff and recall have been important issues in the negotiations, but as worker Gilbert Washington says, “It’s about respect.”

Alfredo Gomez, the Local 73 representative for the workers, explained the setting of this conflict: “The CEO is making $238,000 and is building a new house in a swankier part of Indiana, outside of Gary, while the janitors here make $7.50 an hour.”

Management canceled their directors’ meeting to avoid the protest, but according to Gomez, “Management saw the members stood strong. They got the message.”