"I used to make nearly $15 and a union. But in order to turn bigger profits, corporations slashed my wages and benefits. I lost my car, I had to move my children to a dangerous neighborhood, and now I survive on public assistance. That's why I fight for $15--because I've seen the union difference."
Niya Reed - a mother of four and a native of Detroit - worked for 14 years as a janitor in Detroit, but has lost two jobs in the past few years as building owners chose to hire non-union contractors.
Once the birthplace of the American labor movement, Detroit is now in very real danger of losing its high standards. Even though hard work is generating billions in profits here in Detroit, powerful corporations are using their influence to push down wages and benefits here and across the country.
The Detroit Fisher and Albert Khan Buildings once had strong, union jobs for janitors; jobs with decent wages and healthcare benefits. Contract Direct has replaced these experienced janitors with poverty-wage jobs, cutting wages by over 30% and getting rid of health benefits.
Workers rallied on June 17 in celebration of 25 years of Justice for Janitors, and to continue the fight to #RaiseAmerica with good jobs. Because we know that companies like Contract Direct can afford to support good jobs that boost our economy, lift our communities, and pave a better future for Detroit.
Janitors nationwide are celebrating 25 years of raising America, and are standing is solidarity with Detroit this week.
Now Niya is active in the low-wage workers' Fight for $15. Although she does not remember the heyday of the Motor City, she loves her city and wants to see it succeed as it once did. "There is no place I would rather live than Detroit," Niya says. "I will fight with all I have to keep Detroit a union town."
"I want my kids to have a Detroit as Detroit should be," Niya says. "I want them to go to college when they finish high school and find a good job. The way we ensure our kids' future is by coming together and fighting for jobs that actually raise our communities, not depress them. If we do that, we can Raise America and Raise Detroit!"
"When people ask me, what does a union mean to you? I say that a union means having a future. It means that tomorrow you will have a job. But more than anything, being in a union means that someone has your back."
- Niya Reed is a Detroit Janitor with SEIU Local 1 and a Fight for 15 activist