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Cleaners union fights for statewide $15 minimum wage

Amanda Parrish * Delaware
aparrish@doverpost.com
Dover Post

32BJ SEIU, the largest property service workers union in the country, rallied on the steps of the capitol Jan. 14 to encourage legislators to push for the $15 minimum hourly wage.

Daisy Cruz, director for the Mid-Atlantic District of 32BJ SEIU, said their goal is to fight for all workers and create a pathway to the middle class.

“We won’t stop until all workers across Delaware are earning $15 an hour,” Cruz said. “We have seen workers in New Jersey and Maryland see their wages increase. Residents in Delaware deserve the same.”

According to a press release from 32BJ, cleaners in Delaware were earning $7.25 an hour. Last week, they negotiated a four-year agreement with employers that will have a majority of employees making $15 an hour by the end of the contract.

Tracey Thuo, a cleaner in Wilmington, said now that she has been able to get a raise, she is fighting for all workers across Delaware. 

“I know what it's like to earn less than $15 an hour,” she said. “It’s hard to try and make ends meet when you don’t make enough.”

32BJ members are mainly cleaners, property maintenance workers, security officers, window cleaners and building engineers. In Delaware, they have been able to get workers annual raises, benefits for full-time workers, days off and a voice on the job. 

More than 30% of Wilmington residents earn an income below the poverty level, Cruz said.

“Families can’t survive on the minimum wage of $9.25 an hour,” she said.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a living wage is $26.99 an hour  for one adult supporting one child in New Castle County; it is $24.80 in Kent and $24.58 in Sussex.

Courtney Sunborn, owner of Ecolistic Cleaning in Lewes, said in a Business for a Fair Minimum Wage press release that increasing wages will help businesses retain employees.

“Our business is built on trust between us, our clients and our employees, so when we hire, we want to make sure our hardworking employees are going to stay,” Sunborn said. “We want them feeling valued and getting paid fairly, so we start them well above the current minimum wage, which is not a decent floor for Delaware.”

32BJ SEIU was joined by vice president of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage Alissa Barron-Menza and elected officials.

Michael J. Quaranta, Delaware State Chamber of Commerce president, said in a statement a $15 an hour minimum wage could cause businesses to replace low-skill jobs with technology or artificial intelligence, which would increase youth unemployment.

The proposal does nothing to train or retrain low-skilled workers and only hastens the day when the most vulnerable of us go from underemployed to unemployable,” he said.