SEIU Press Release, May 22
LAS VEGAS—A newly formed committee of property service workers from shopping malls around the country appealed to the nation’s mayors today to call on mall owners to hire responsible contractors who pay living wages, provide affordable health insurance and respect workers’ right to form a union. There are nearly 70,000 janitors and security guards in malls, most of whom are not provided with affordable health insurance and are paid wages that keep workers and their families near poverty. Security guards and janitors in malls are currently seeking to improve their lives by forming a union with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The National Committee for Justice for Mall Workers was formed as part of an effort to lift tens of thousands of contracted-out workers in malls out of poverty, raise industry standards, and improve health and safety training. The committee is made up of mall worker representatives from 10 states. Representatives from the committee will be visiting mayors in various cities across the country over the next few weeks.
Gabrieal Robinson, a janitor at the Shops at Sunset Place in Miami, and Rafael Cruz, a janitor at the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island, released the letter in Las Vegas at the International Shopping Centers’ spring convention.
Despite working in a mall owned by the largest and one of the richest mall owners in the nation, Simon Property Group (SPG), Gabrieal and a handful of her co-workers are expected to clean more than a half million square feet of mall space each day for less than $64 a day. They are not provided with paid sick days or affordable health insurance.
On the wages she earns cleaning, saving for retirement and quality health care are just a dream. Instead, Gabrieal and tens of thousands of property service workers like her at malls around the country, scramble to pay for medicine, doctor's visits, food, and rent. Despite working hard every day, many live in fear that a medical emergency could leave them and their family homeless or force them to rely on government assistance to care for her family. "I work across the street from the University of Miami. Their struggle to improve their lives inspired me to speak up about the conditions that we face. We work hard but live in fear that we are one check away from homelessness."
Rafeal Cruz, who has affordable family health insurance and a union, agreed: "Our communities need good jobs that provide health insurance. I am lucky enough to have heath insurance. Every family should have what I do."
Industry statistics indicate that malls are trending toward becoming more closely integrated into their surrounding communities by redeveloping into "lifestyle centers," offering residential living spaces, neighborhood services like dry cleaning, and retail shops. However, the use of irresponsible service contractors who pay near poverty wages and do not provide workers with health insurance at these new developments could undermine the relationship that many mall owners are seeking to build with local communities that depend on good jobs.
According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, "having a sizeable uninsured population translates into real economic and noneconomic costs for our country, including the expenses for services uninsured people use and the costs resulting from poorer health because they often forgo needed services."
"Employers face a choice—be a leader and hire contractors who pay decent wages and provide health insurance or face increasing opposition from local community leaders unwilling to tolerate the economic and social impact that poverty level jobs wreak on our communities," said Madeline Janis-Aparicio, secretary-treasurer of The Partnership for Working Families, a national organization devoted to ensuring that working families and communities truly benefit from economic development.
Close to 95 percent of malls in the United States contract out services like cleaning and security to subcontractors. There are approximately 45,000 janitors and security officers who do not receive health insurance from their mall contractors .
More than 60 percent of retail workers do not receive health insurance from their contractors.
Simon Property Group (SPG) is the largest publicly traded retail real estate company in North America with a total market capitalization of approximately $42 billion. SPG currently owns or is interested in 285 properties in 39 states in addition to Puerto Rico.
Latino workers are hardest hit by the health care crisis and have the highest uninsured rates. Thirty-two percent of Latinos living in the United States are uninsured. Ten million of the 13 million uninsured Latinos are in working families. In 2002, 20 percent of Latino children were uninsured compared with 9 percent of black children and 7 percent of white children. More than one in five citizen children in low-income mixed-status families remained uninsured in 2002—a rate 74 percent higher than that of children with citizen parents.